This combination of Associated Press file photos shows, left, an undated driver’s license photo distributed by police in 2002 of Brenda Heist, and right, an April 26, 2013 photo of Heist taken by the Monroe County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office and released by the Lititz Borough, Pa. Police. Lititz Borough Police in central Pennsylvania say Heist, who disappeared after dropping off her children for school 11 years ago has been located in Florida.
Not all offenders are criminal offenders or end up in jail or prison, some offenders are offenders against morality. They are offenders against all that we as a society hold most dear. A mother’s love. We recently saw in the news where Pennsylvania woman who had been missing for over 11 years and was presumed and declared dead, showed up and turned herself into the police in Florida.
Brenda Heist had driven her two children to school on the day she went missing and was never heard from by her family again. Her husband was in the middle of divorcing her at the time she disappeared. Her children, a daughter age 8 and a son age 12 were raised by her husband who has since remarried.
Brenda said that she was distraught because her application for assistance for housing had been denied and went to a park where she was crying and was approached by two men and a woman who were “hippies” and they asked her to join them and she went with them. She abandoned her family and her children that day apparently without a backward glance.
During the time she was gone she stole the identity of several different people and is currently under hold for identity theft and other crimes in Florida.
Brenda’s daughter and son are not at this point interested in seeing her, though in an interview with one reporter her son said he would like to ask her why she left.
The photographs of Brenda taken in 2002 before she left and the most recent one taken after she returned almost don’t look like the same person. To me she looks like a crystal meth user or someone in very poor health. She stated that one of the reasons she came back was she was homeless and in poor health and wanted to live with her mother in Texas.
More people than we might think “disappear” but few of them turn up after a decade. I personally knew a man when I was working for my father who had left his family, just took a suitcase and walked out. He did leave his wife a successful business so they were not destitute, but over 20 years later, his son sought me out to ask me about his father. I had dinner with him and the physical resemblance to his father 20 years prior was unsettling to me, but there was no “spark” like his father had, no quick wit. It felt like I was having dinner with the animated corpse of the man I had known so long ago. During that dinner I realized how much emotional damage he had done to his children, especially his son who was 10 when he left.
At the time I knew him, the man was witty, interesting and very charming. I had no idea at age 18 what a cruel thing he had done to his wife and children. He said that it was “just easier on the kids if he did it that way.” His wife had to have him declared dead in order to get the business in order. I found out later that he had gone to prison in another country.
About three years ago the brother of a woman I know from my living history group pulled a disappearing act. He left his car, cell phone, brief case, and lap top at a state park. He was later spotted about 40 miles away at a motel, and the search dogs alerted on his scent there, but the trail went cold at that point. His wife was able to have him declared dead after only three years.
He was the CFO of a large corporation but an examination of the books showed no money missing and no money was taken from his personal account.
His family, including his sister and other relatives were devastated and the search went on for him for quite some time as “missing or abducted” but eventually, the family came to realize as did the police that he had left voluntarily.
It is traumatic to anyone to have someone they love “disappear” either through death or other means, but to have someone just “vanish” I think is especially horrific, and especially to children. Without a body for closure, and even in the case of her husband, to be suspected in her death, must have made it doubly painful. Brenda’s ex husband also stated in one article that there were some people who would not allow their children to play with his children because of the stigma.
I do empathize with these children of this woman. I too would want to know “why,” but at the same time, I don’t think that I would want any kind of a relationship with anyone who would abandon me like this. “Love” is an action verb, not just a squishy feeling, and you don’t treat your children like this if you “love” them. This is not the way a mother who loves her children treats them. Dr. Robert Hare, one of the, if not the, top researchers in psychopathy says that psychopaths don’t understand emotional words. If you ask a psychopathic mother if she “loves” her children, she might reply “Of course I love my children” but she won’t realize that “love” means you care for them, that you feed them for example. I can’t say for sure that this woman is a psychopath, but I can say for sure that she does not love her children or her family, she only came back because she wanted help and was tired of living on the street.
Brenda’s mother is apparently accepting her back into the family, and at least one of her brothers.
Her reappearance at this point in time, though, I’m sure must trigger old feelings, and now that the “mystery” of her disappearance has been solved, and her children know that she voluntarily left them, I would think would be a devastating thing to learn after thinking all those years that someone must have abducted her, that she had not left voluntarily. For a child of any age, I think finding out that “my mommy doesn’t love me” is a very personal and deeply cutting knowledge. Some children find out early on, and others like these two young adults found out as they are starting adult life. Others find out decades later. The feelings of “what is wrong with me that my mother doesn’t love me?” is the usual knee jerk response that many people experience.
This woman by her abandonment of her children and other family, whatever her excuse was, has deeply hurt them.
I can only imagine the pain that they must be in.