Fort Worth, TX

Texas woman found by family 51 years after being kidnapped as a baby

B.R. Shenoy

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"Our finding 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," Sharon Highsmith, one of Melissa’s siblings, wrote on Facebook.

My next story is about a Christmas miracle.

One of the country's oldest missing person cases has finally been solved, thanks to a DNA test and without the assistance of law enforcement or other outside parties.

According to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth, Melissa Highsmith was 22 months old when a babysitter allegedly kidnapped her from her parents' Fort Worth apartment in August 1971.

Alta Apantenco, Highsmith's mother, who was working as a waitress at the time, placed an ad in a local newspaper to find child care for her daughter. Apantenco hired a woman who responded to the ad without first meeting her. The woman allegedly abducted Apantenco's daughter and did not return.

The Highsmith family has been searching for their missing child for more than five decades, hoping to find her alive. 

According to the family, Apantenco was subjected to years of legal accusations that she may have murdered her daughter and covered it up.

Melissa's brother, Jeff Highsmith, set up a Facebook page in 2018 to solicit tips on how to find her.

Melissa was discovered living in Fort Worth under the name Melanie Walden after the family received the results of a 23AndMe DNA test that linked Melissa's children with them.

In an effort to find their long-lost daughter, both Highsmith parents submitted DNA samples.

Melissa assumed it was a hoax when her birth father contacted her, claiming he had been searching for his daughter for 51 years. Melissa had no idea her biological family was looking for her.

Melissa was renamed Melanie by her abductor and spent most of her life a short distance from where she'd been abducted. She stated that she would now use her birth name.

Melissa's abductor may never face charges. The statute of limitations ran out 20 years after she turned 18.

On November 27, family members posted a positive message about the reunion on the Facebook page, which has since been renamed "We Found Melissa." Melissa Highsmith hugged her parents and other loved ones in the post.

What are your thoughts on this Christmas miracle? Let us know in the comments.

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