Mother who disappeared in Pa. in 2002 resurfaces in Fla., says she snapped; was declared dead

It's been 11 years since Brenda Heist walked away from her two children, her job and her life in central Pennsylvania to hitchhike with strangers to Florida.

Police said Wednesday she disclosed her identity last week in South Florida, saying she slept under bridges and scavenged food from restaurant trash to survive.

Her children were 8 and 12 at the time she vanished. Now one's a college graduate and the other is a West Chester University sophomore.

Heist had been going through a divorce when she disappeared in 2002. After hearing she'd been turned down for housing assistance, she decided to take off, never contacting anyone.

In the years since she left, Heist's husband remarried, and a court declared her legally dead.