If you’ve been paying attention to national news, you’ve probably seen some coverage about the Pennsylvania woman who turned up in Florida after being a missing person for over 11 years. Her name is Brenda Heist. And I know her. And I loved her. And she’s alive.
I grew up in a small town. The same kids were in the same classes every year. All the parents knew each other. And you could walk everywhere. In a nearby neighborhood was the Heist family, just a short walk away; a family that mine knew well. I’ve been friends with Lee as long as I can remember; I think we went to preschool together. it was football or building a fort in the backyard, or elementary school basketball games, or baseball on Saturday, we were always into something, and always having fun.
Lee’s parents were amazing. They cheered from the sidelines at every game, always had something fun for us to do, and cared about the kids more than anything. Even as a visitor, you always felt like family in the Heist house.
A wonderful family. A wonderful friend. A normal life. And then on February 8th, 2002, it all changed. She vanished. She took Lee and Morgan to school and just never came home.
She was just gone.
I remember when it started. The police, the detectives, the sadness and the wondering. I remember when the nightmares started and that they never ended. I remember looking for her everywhere I went. I’d lock my eyes on anyone that resembled her at all, and think “what if that’s her”.
A few years ago, they had her declared dead. This was tough to hear, but we went from missing to mourning. Lost to dead. Out there to gone forever. It was tough to hear, but it was all the closure we were ever going to get.
Until Friday. On Friday night, Morgan and Lee received a phone call from Detective Schofield. He met with them to tell them that they found Brenda. And that she’s alive.
Morgan got a hold of me first thing Saturday. I honestly don’t even remember the details she gave me. I remember thinking over and over “They found Brenda. They found Brenda. They found Brenda.” I didn’t care about the details. I didn’t really even process them all. I was, and I still am, completely blown away. I am so happy to know that no one hurt her. She’s alive. She’s okay. But I was overcome with sadness for Lee. For Morgan. And for their dad.
Their sweet dad. He initially was investigated as a suspect. People judged and came up with who they thought he was. What they thought he did. But we always played at the Heist house. I’m so glad that nothing changed for us.
And Lee. Everything he knew was gone. Every piece of normal was broken. Every ounce of stability was filled with chaos as we went into middle school the next year.
And Morgan. Sweet Morgan. She was only 8. A little girl with eyes that only saw the good in the world. A sweet girl who lost her mom with no warning, and no answers. A little girl who is now an amazing 20 year old woman, making her way through college and starting her life. A little girl that learned how to make it on her own.
I don’t know what’s next for them. I hope that one day they will meet Brenda. I hope one day I get the chance to say hello. I hope that one day the wounds can heal and the broken hearts can mend.
But for today, I’m still stuck in “They found Brenda. They found Brenda. They found Brenda.”
She’s alive today. They found her.