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Missing Pa. woman, thought dead, surfaces in Fla.

LITITZ, Pa. — A Pennsylvania woman who disappeared after dropping off her children for school 11 years ago has surfaced in Florida, telling police she traveled there on a whim with homeless hitchhikers, slept under bridges, and panhandled, authorities said.

Brenda Heist, 53, had been declared legally dead, a Lititz Borough police detective said. The detective said he met with her in Florida on Monday and she apologized for what she did to her family.

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Heist was going through an amicable divorce in 2002 when she was turned down for housing assistance, which led her to despair. She was crying in a park when two women and a man befriended her, then invited her to join them as they hitchhiked to Florida.

Her ex-husband Lee Heist, who collected on a life insurance policy after getting the courts to declare her legally dead in 2010 , said he was angry because of the effect her disappearance had on their son and daughter. Lee Heist was looked at as a suspect, but was eventually cleared.

Heist turned herself in to police in Key Largo, Fla., on warrants, and told them she was a missing person.

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