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Pennsylvania Mom Thought Dead Found Living Homeless in the Keys for a Decade

The last time Brenda Heist's children saw her, she had dropped them off at school. They returned home to find dinner defrosting and the laundry half done, but mom was missing. Despite an extensive search, Heist was never found. Three years ago, Heist's husband even petitioned to have her legally declared dead.

Well, she turned up this week after turning herself into police in the Florida Keys. She had been living there as a homeless woman for the past decade.

At the time of her 2002 disappearance, Heist and her husband were going through an amicable divorce, according to WFMZ. One day she took off. Her car was found abandoned a few days later, but there was no trace of her.

Turns out Heist had joined a group of homeless people hitchhiking to the Keys and never looked back. At some points, she slept under bridges and in tents and ate food discarded from fast-food restaurants. However, for about seven years she lived with a man in a camper and picked up some work.

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She never bothered to contact the two children she had left behind. Her daughter, 8 years old at the time of Heist's disappearance, is now a college sophomore. Her son, 12 years old at the time, has graduated college and is planning to enter a police academy.

The family finally got news she was alive after Heist turned herself into police after she feared she was wanted in Pinellas County. A police check revealed she had been reported missing and feared dead.

"She has a birth certificate and a death certificate, so she's got a long ways to make this right again," Lititz Borough police Det. John Schofield told NBC Miami. "She's got to take it slow with her family, I'm sure, and it's going to be a long process."

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