What happened to Melissa Highsmith? Texas woman kidnapped during childhood reunites with family after 51 years

Melissa Highsmith reuniting with her parents (Image via Paige Lobdell/Twitter)
Melissa Highsmith reuniting with her parents (Image via Paige Lobdell/Twitter)

In an astounding incident, Melissa Highsmith, a woman who was abducted over five decades ago, was reunited with her family in Fort Worth, Texas, last week.

On Saturday, November 26, Melissa Highsmith, 53, was reunited with her family, who tracked her down with a DNA test after she was kidnapped by a babysitter at the age of two at her parents' Fort Worth home in 1971.

Highsmith, who was found living in Fort Worth under the name Melanie Walden, was discovered after they received an anonymous tip about her sightings in Charleston, North Carolina, in September this year. The family reportedly tracked down the missing woman without any help from law enforcement agencies.

In a statement on Facebook, Sharon Highsmith, elated over finding her missing sister, said:

"Our finding of Melissa was purely because of DNA, not because of any police or FBI involvement, podcast involvement, or even our family's own private investigations or speculations."

Details about the abduction of Melissa Highsmith

Melissa Highsmith was 22 months old in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1971 when she was abducted by a babysitter who was hired after her mother, Alta Apantenco, placed an advertisement in a newspaper. Alta reportedly hired a woman without ever interviewing her in person. Following her abduction, family and law enforcement searched for Highsmith for over 50 years to no avail.

Highsmith was finally found after the resilient family, who always celebrated her birthday in November, created a Facebook page, “Finding Melissa Highsmith,” that aided in their search for the missing relative.

Shortly after, they received anonymous tips about sightings in Charleston and were able to track down Highsmith, who was living in Fort Worth. They then used the results of a 23andMe DNA test, a birthmark, and her birthday to confirm that she was indeed their missing relative.

Melissa Highsmith speaks out after reuniting with family

After reuniting with her parents, Highsmith, in a statement to CBS News, said:

"It's good to see what I looked like as a baby. It's overwhelming, but at the same time, it's the most wonderful feeling in the world."

Highsmith’s mother, seemingly euphoric over reuniting with her daughter, said:

"I just couldn't believe it. I thought I'd never see her again."

In a family statement imbued with hope, Highsmith’s mother, her father, Jeffrie Highsmith, and her siblings – Garner, Sharon Highsmith, Rebecca Del Bosque, and Jeff Highsmith – asked people still looking for their loved ones to never give up.

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Edited by Shreya Das
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