Daughter voices anger at mom found after 11 years

By Mark Scolforo

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 2 2013 2:47 p.m. MDT

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, 20013 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. (AP Photo)

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The teenage daughter of a woman who just revealed she abandoned her family 11 years ago said Thursday the disclosure has angered her and she is not eager to restart their relationship.

Morgan Heist, who learned last week Brenda Heist had surfaced in the Florida Keys, said the news has made her recall with bitterness the years of mourning she endured when she assumed her mother was dead and feared she'd been murdered.

"I ached every birthday, every Christmas," said 19-year-old Morgan Heist, a freshman at a community college outside Philadelphia. "My heart just ached. I wasn't mad at her. I wanted her to be there because I thought something had happened to her. I wish I had never cried."

Brenda Heist's mother, Jean Copenhaver, said Thursday that her daughter "had a real traumatic time" but was doing OK.

Brenda Heist was released from police custody on Wednesday and is staying with a brother in northern Florida for now, Copenhaver said.

Copenhaver, of Brenham, Texas, said she had spoken with Heist several times since Friday, when the 54-year-old woman turned herself in to police in Florida and was identified as a missing person.

"She just said she thought the family wouldn't want to talk to her because of her leaving," Copenhaver said. "And we all assured her that wasn't the case and we all loved her and wanted to be with her."

Morgan Heist said she's not sympathetic, partly because her mother had a choice, unlike the family she secretly abandoned.

"It's definitely very selfish," Morgan Heist said. "She clearly did not think of me or my brother or my dad at all with that decision. She thought of herself."

Heist told police she made a spur-of-the-moment decision in 2002 to join a group of homeless hitchhikers on their way to Florida, walking out on Morgan, 8, and her brother, then 12.

Brenda and her husband, Lee, were living together but going through an amicable divorce when she learned she had been denied housing support, police said. She was crying about that in a Lancaster park when three strangers befriended her and offered to let her join them.

Morgan Heist said her parents had agreed to live near each other once they divorced. Brenda Heist had been a bookkeeper at a car dealership.

"It's more of a mystery than ever," she said. "Her life was not hard at all."

Brenda Heist told police she slept under bridges and survived at times by scavenging food from restaurant trash and panhandling. But Lititz Police Detective John Schofield said Thursday he is looking into reports that have come in over the past day suggesting Brenda Heist's time in Florida included much less miserable periods.

"We're getting several calls from people down in Florida that knew her who want to say she's not being truthful with us," Schofield said.

Heist told a detective with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office that she had recently been arrested in the Tampa Bay region and might be in violation of probation. She told the detective she used the name Kelsie Lyanne Smith and provided a date of birth.

Jail and court records show Kelsie Lyanne Smith, with a matching birth date, was arrested in January on misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession, possession of drug paraphernalia and providing false identification to law enforcement. After pleading guilty, Smith was sentenced to time served and was released on Feb. 13. She was also ordered to pay court costs but failed to do so and was found delinquent on April 15.

Copenhaver said she has not pressed her daughter about what led her to walk away from the life she knew in Pennsylvania and then live underground for more than a decade.

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