May 2nd, 2013
11:10 PM ET

Son to mom: We did well after you left

Lee Heist Jr., the son of the woman who surfaced after disappearing 11 years ago, looks back on the day she left. "I remember we walked home from school, it was only a couple of blocks away. And she wasn't there. We assumed that - my sister and I assumed she was grocery shopping or something," he said.

He tells Anderson Cooper he's experiencing mixed emotions right now knowing she's alive and where she's been for over a decade.

Brenda Heist told police she abandoned her family and life in Pennsylvania more than a decade ago to escape her problems. She hitchhiked to Florida with a group of homeless people.

Since that day when she was last seen dropping her kids off at  school, Brenda hasn't contacted her family. She was declared legally dead after an exhaustive search. Last week the 54-year-old turned herself in to Key Largo, Florida authorities.

Asked what Lee would say to his mother, he told Anderson he would question why she left and he wants her to ask for forgiveness. "I really wish she could see what became of my family because we've done very well despite it ... I kind of want her to see what she missed out on," he said.

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  1. Charlie

    I agree as well, there are two sides to every story. It does not appear this lady had a fun life, at least it caught up to her whatever life she did have. I hope she does want to get in touch with her children and is very sorry for her part in what has happened, people do change, and sometimes it takes hard times and pain for a person to change, but they do. If a person is deeply sorry for what they have done and wished they had'nt hurt others because of it etc.,then I think they can be forgiven and even supported and helped with the anguish they are feeling. The son does seem to want to hear her side of the story, and even be willing to forgive her once he does, good for him, I was glad to hear that. I do feel for all that has been affected by all of this, but I also Feel for the mother who looks as though she needs some love and caring for, especially if she is deeply sorry for what she has done. Again, there are two sides to every story, let's not be so quick to stone her as some have been, a little mercy goes a long way.

    June 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  2. Lee

    I'm a men, I took care of 4 kids by myself. Their mom left us since the youngest was 1 yr old. Now she's 13 the oldes is 20. She still bumped from place to place. We men can do the job, amen.

    May 22, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  3. steve

    Sad story with a resilient ending. My heart goes out to Brenda, life can be a super struggle. I wish her the best and am very happy for the kids and their ability to cope and move on. God bless them all

    May 16, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  4. Jenna

    Men walk out on wives and children all the time. A woman does it, and it's national news.

    May 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • Sarah

      The problem is not that a woman just walked out on her family. All of this attention is because she left and a massive search and tons of resources were spent trying to find her.

      May 16, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Renee

      Jenna you are exactly right. I was thinking it but didn't say it. I work in social work and I see this ALL the time with men leaving their wives, girlfriends/baby mama's and children alone to fiend for themselves. Ridiculous!!!

      May 22, 2013 at 8:39 am |
      • Paula

        What do you see every day? Men who disappear, leaving their families, and turning up eleven years later, after being declared dead and after being searched for for years? This is NOT a case of one person walking out of his/her spouse. It's a case of disappearance, of a missing person, believed dead, declared dead, who turns up after more than a decade.
        Can you see the difference?

        May 22, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
      • Lynsu

        Men walk out on their wives and children all the time.. .....There are two sides to every story and I'd like to know what life was like with a husband who wanted a divorce after marriage and two children .. he was going to leave her for another woman, and, he was going to leave her with two children.

        The before photo of this woman is one of a fragile, troubled and very unhappy soul. I hope that they all find peace.

        May 23, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Judy

      I agree with you. She must have been so scare. She thought she was doing the right thing.

      May 23, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Jack Favereau

      Being a single parent isn't that hard. It's time-consuming and definitely frustrating here and there (two teen girls + 1 boy off in college), but it's not so bad that I'd ever want to run off to Florida and do meth. I'm owed for 10 years of child support payments and the kids have to go to college on loans, but it's working out.

      You know what is hard? Being a kid who has to come to terms with their Mom running off. And not because she was in an abusive relationship, but because she'd rather go back to her home country and live the single life. That's hard.

      May 27, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  5. bernadette

    There is no excuse for what she did...how can you leave your kids like that..i know they probably grew up better off without her but she looked like she was a junkie....and for the kids ...you better off without..because she doesn,t love you
    if she did she wouldn,t leave you!!!! no matter what,,,

    May 11, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  6. fred

    True, it's horrible to abandon your kids, but is it more hateful but less common for women to do so than it is for males?

    May 10, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  7. Jocelyn

    Easy to judge on people. Remember if mental illness or depression kick in they are helpless. Feel isolated and they dont know what to do. The only thing in their mind is run. They usually dont us for help. Ending up leaving their love ones.

    May 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • rudolf vs

      Yes, this woman is probably not well in her head.
      She perchance needs treatment for her possible disorder.

      May 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Rowan

      Exactly...Thank you for posting this comment...I can't understand how people judge others so quick
      I guess their life is perfect. Truth is the struggle with Mental illness, Depression and vitamin def. is growing in the Country by leaps and bounds and if you don't have loving adults around you to help you realize you need help, helpless feelings can give in and most of the time suicide / suicide and homicide happen along with struggling and doing more damage to the children.
      I hate it for her children loosing their mother in the way they did.....but we must always remember it could have been more tragic. I hope they find forgiving in their hearts, and I hope she finds healing
      Don't judge someone until you have walked in their shoes.....lived through what they have , and can understand it may not be in their control.

      May 20, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
  8. Suzanne

    She looks like she may be suffering from a severe mental illness.
    We don't know what happened to her, so how can we judge her?

    May 9, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  9. Kathy

    She needed to resurface,her children have wondered what happened to her long enough,in life the truth hurts,but it's better for them to know ,then to wonder, for the rest of there life's ,what happened to her.

    May 8, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  10. Lisa

    I am a single mother, by choice, of three kids. II left a drug using, alcoholic and abusive husband and started with an income of $400 a month. I packed the house and left it in storage and put the three kids in the mini van and went back to my home town. NOT once did I think of giving up on my kids. I don't know what this woman was thinking, what demons she faced, or what led her to leave. There are times where I imagine running away but just the THOUGHT of what my children would feel quickly brings me back to reality. There will always be a struggle in life, and there will always be a reward for that struggle.

    May 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • rudolf vs

      So writes a good mother;
      however, this particular woman felt her husband could look after her kids well enough without her input & he obviously did.
      Kudos to her husband!.

      May 13, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
      • Arturo

        Rudolf, I don't believe a husband was there - The son said " "I really wish she could see what became of -my- family because we've done very well despite it .."

        May 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
        • Rhonda

          The husband/dad was there; he became their custodial parent. The original article didn't say whether they were sharing custody or not; regardless, he stepped in and up when she ran off.

          May 17, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  11. JanetMermaid

    I have seen many of those before/after photos of people who end up addicted to crystal meth. She sure looks like most of the after photos. Her kids are probably wise to not reconnect with her.

    May 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  12. JanetMermaid

    She has all the appearance of a crystal meth addict. Her kids may well be wise to not reconnect with her.

    May 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  13. Nita

    Its very easy for all of us to make a comment --everyone thinks differently and handle things different, maybe she needed help and guidance and no one was there to give a little advice or a helping hand. I am sure she had alot of options, so many mothers kill themselves and their children - now that would have hurt all the family. When you are in a position like that, even your own family is no where around to give a helping hand. So please don't judge her, she is suffering more than we know......I pray for her and the children. Somehow I really hope that they find peace within themselves...........

    May 8, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • fred

      Totally agree. She'snot to be judged. Besides, the kids seem to have done much better than they would've with her meager income. Forgive and love.

      May 10, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Ron G


      May 16, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  14. Charlie

    Maybe, just maybe she will ask for forgiveness, and is really sorry and tormented by what she has done. It really is easy to judge her, but who knows what it's been like for her. How horrible it is for what her children felt and still must feel with the thought and reality of their mother deserting them. I don't want to judge this woman because I hope she somehow felt her children would be better off without her around and left them with her husband, with whom she was breaking up with. By the looks of her she turned to drugs, perhaps to try and kill the hurt and pain of what she did and what she was going through and maybe because she missed her children and really did want them but felt by her leaving it would be better for them. I know it's a long shot, but who knows. I don't overlook what she has done, far from it, but I really hope she seeks forgiveness and that her children will forgive her if the truth warrants it.

    May 8, 2013 at 6:32 am |
    • Fitz

      Maybe when she gets healthy and is able to forgive herself.... she will then be able to make amends. Saying the words is one thing, however meaning them is another. I wish them all the best and hope in their hearts they're able to forgive each other. We truly do not know the history of this completely.... so not for any of us to judge what another may have happen, only they know the truth.

      June 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  15. Mary

    It was a terrible thing that she did,but, look at her,she's aged not 11 years, but more like twenty,looks to me she's had a lot of stress and torment in her life. We don't know what she was thinking,when she did it,so I'm not going to judge her.As for her family,that's a whole different story,they may not EVER forgive or forget.

    May 7, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  16. Charles

    It's always easy for people to judge others. I feel for both here and children. I feel for the kids that that had to grow up with out a mother. The mother didn't leave to go to a better place, she sounds like she was a woman who was ovrwhelmed by life. I have felt that, but by the Grace of God, I've held on. I wish her the best in the rest of her life. I also hope there can be some kind of reconcilition between her and her children.

    May 7, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  17. jane

    Would have been easier for her children, I'm sure, to never have resurfaced. To me, she turned the knife she stabbed in their backs by leaving. My heart goes out to her family having to deal with her-again.

    May 7, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  18. Happy

    Something people are not reading between the lines are - single mothering is hard and there is really no group or services that make it easier or live with dignity... She panicked then she was weighed down with guilt and shame. Poor woman... To figure out how a woman is going to put a roof over her family's head and food on the table all the while keeping them supervised is really hard when your income does not make ends meet....which brings us all to fight for living wage for families...

    May 6, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Maggie

      Happy....really? Having children is a choice. My mom was a single mom, no it was not easy but she never walked away. Reading between the lines, I would say that this 'mother' walked away from her kids. PERIOD. What a selfish decision. Children don't ask to be born.

      May 6, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • Carly

      I am sorry...I have been a single mom (of a toddler and newborn) and yes it is difficult. But not once did I think, "Hmmm, I think I will just abandon my children." They were always at the forefront of my decision making.

      May 7, 2013 at 5:32 am |
    • Ken

      Here's a thought.....Instead of assuming your husband is going to pay for everything in your life for the rest of your life, how about preparing yourself to be a financial adult BEFORE you start having children? Here's another thought... Instead of the mom automatically winning custody 90% of the time regardless of the facts, maybe dads should get custody more often.

      May 7, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Ralph

      There is never an excuse to abandon your children.

      May 7, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
      • jhette

        @ralph, sure there are reasons. it is better to leave than to kill your children, as some mothers have done. deep depression and mental illness can drive a person to do crazy things. both the children and mother deserve compassion. "by the grace of God there go i ...."

        May 8, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • A different Ken

      I was a single father for many years, and I went through the darkest emotional times of my life, but walking away never entered my mind.

      May 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • Jim

      Single mothering is hard? Of course it is. But she wouldn't know because she gave up on the first day. Then she ran and never looked back. Not a word for 11 years.
      The facts don't require interpretation or understanding. There is nothing that would justify what she did..

      May 8, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  19. Allison

    Obviously she doesn't care whether or not she hurts her children...I don't see why she felt the need to resurface at all, but I do know her children's feelings are of no concern to her.

    May 6, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  20. Deb

    Better to leave your children and have them hate you forever, than to stay and do something terrible. Everyone's breaking point is different. Her children are alive and living good lives. She is alone and wracked with guilt.

    May 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  21. Burt Ward

    I'm sure she wants something. She's broke, destitute, hungry, and homeless. She wants money.

    May 4, 2013 at 1:24 am |
    • Jason

      I lived with a drug addict (breifly!). In the end all they care about is how they are going to get enough money to get high again. Brenda has probably exhausted all her other means for getting high and is trying to reach out to her old family. I hope they don't fall for it.

      May 9, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  22. Sarah

    Why did she have to resurface now? All that would accomplish is hurt her children.

    May 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • John

      She's obviously a pretty selfish person. I doubt she cares very much how it affects her children.

      May 5, 2013 at 12:54 am |
    • Ralph

      She doesn't care. She only cares about herself.

      May 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • Garyj

      She never would have come forward if she hadn't been declared legally dead. The government tends to cut off your benefits when you die.

      May 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
      • rudolf vs

        Did she receive benefits while they were looking for her?
        If they did, why could they not locate her?

        May 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm |