A woman, 53, who was abducted as a baby 51 years ago reunited with her family in Texas after a DNA test confirmed her identity.
Melissa Highsmith was abducted as a baby from her Fort Worth, Texas home in 1971 by her babysitter. She was only 22 months old at the time.
As reported by BBC, “Years of searching by the family yielded nothing – until DNA samples sent to an ancestry website produced a match.”
“Long known as “Melanie,” Ms Highsmith now plans to change back her name.”
The incident occurred in 1971 when Melissa’s mother, Alta Apatenco, hired a babysitter through an advertisement in a local newspaper.
The babysitter then kidnapped Ms. Highsmith, who was only 22 months old at that time, and raised her in their home just ten minutes away from her birth parents’ home.
After their child went missing, Melissa’s parents, Jeffrie Higshmith, now 72, and Alta Alpantenco, 73, searched for her wherever they could and also involved police and federal authorities in the baby hunt.
“As the search went on year after year, Ms. Highsmith – who went by the name Melanie Walden – was unaware that anyone was looking for her. Initially, she thought the family’s efforts to contact her through Facebook were a scam,” wrote BBC.
“A breakthrough in the case finally came on 6 November, when a DNA test on ancestry website 23AndMe connected Mrs. Highsmith’s children with the family, with the help of an amateur genealogist that helped them understand the results.”
After the confirmation, Melissa, who grew up as Melanie Walden, was miraculously reunited with her biological family, including her parents, father Jeffrie and mother Alta, and siblings Rebecca Del Bosque, 48, Vicitoria Highsmith, 47, Sharon Highsmith, 45 and Jeffrey Highsmith, 42, last year on November 26, 2022.
After spending months on the case, the Fort Worth Police Department issued a complete statement regarding Melissa’s identity confirmation.
“It is our hope that this test result will offer additional closure for the Highsmith family,” the statement read.
According to PEOPLE, the Highsmith family already knew through DNA testing that their daughter and sister, Melissa, who went by the name Melanie Miyoko was alive and was, in fact the same person they had been looking for.
“The whole time I was there, it was a bad childhood,” Melissa told PEOPLE. “I wasn’t allowed to go outside and play, and she always sheltered me. And she said the reason she sheltered me was because I was born at home and that I had brain damage.”
“I used to wonder, ‘Why did she even have me if she didn’t want me?’” she added.
The 53-year-old further said that she had a horrible childhood at her kidnapper’s place and was even sexually assaulted by her abductor’s husband, who pretended to be her stepfather.
“Before I met my new family I reached out to the mother that I thought raised me and asked her if there was something she needed to tell me,” she told Daily Mail in a separate interview.
“She told me she had purchased me on the street for $500. I was shocked. My head was spinning. I didn’t sleep. She never told me,’ Melissa said, ‘but she always told me that she had something to tell me that she had been wanting to tell me for a long time that is when I told her I already knew.”
The family is really happy and grateful for the blessed reunion and said they will focus on their future together as there is nothing they can do to change their past.
“I am still angry but I am going to focus on the happiness that is to come not the pain that I left. God got this done and I have to focus on going forward,” Melissa told Daily Mail.
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Sources: BBC – Daily Mail – PEOPLE