Brenda C. Heist had been declared dead, the Lititz (Pa.) Recorder Express reported Wednesday. Detective Sgt. John Schofield said Lititz police got a call Friday from the Monroe County sheriff's office saying she had come forward after approaching a deputy in Key Largo.
"I was shocked," Schofield said. "Quite honestly, I presumed her to be deceased as well, and I thought we were going to get the phone call one day that her remains were discovered."
Heist was last seen in Lititz, a town of less than 10,000 north of Lancaster, on Feb. 8, 2002, when she dropped her son and daughter off at school. She reportedly told police she hitchhiked to Florida with a group of homeless people and had been living there ever since, getting food from dumpsters.
She reportedly resurfaced because she was tired of street life.
Schofield said he arranged to meet Heist's former husband, Lee, and her daughter, Morgan, at a restaurant in King of Prussia near Philadelphia. The family moved to the Philadelphia suburbs after Heist's disappearance.
"I think they assumed that I was going to tell them that we found her remains," Schofield told the Recorder Express. "Needless to say, they were absolutely shocked. It was very emotional for them to hear that she was still alive, and that she left them voluntarily. I can't imagine how that feels."