Melissa Highsmith was just 22 months old when she was abducted from her family by a babysitter back in 1971. Fifty-one years later, she reunited with them on Thanksgiving.
“After 51 years it’s so emotional,” her father, Jeffrie Highsmith told CBS News. His words describe how the reunion has been for the entire family. Her mother, Atla Apantencl, through tears, told news stations she never thought she would see her daughter again.
Melissa’s case was one of the oldest missing persons cases in the United States.
Melissa’s biological mother, Alta, was a single mom working full time in Fort Worth, Texas, when she hired a babysitter to look after Melissa. She was at work when her roommate let the babysitter in. The babysitter was supposed to take Melissa for the day but never returned. Alta faced years of suspicion from police.
As it turns out Melissa had been living less than 20 minutes away. It wasn’t until decades later that the Highsmiths got a lead through DNA.
Living under the name Melanie Walden, it would be Melissa’s children’s DNA that broke the case. Highsmith’s family had searched for her for years. A DNA Test by 23 and Me connected Melissa’s children with the Highsmiths. Her family reached out to her on Facebook, but Melissa thought it was possibly a scam. She said, “My father texted me on messenger and he told me, ‘You know, I’ve been looking for my daughter for 51 years.'”
She approached the person she had thought was her mother and asked her, “‘Is there anything you need to tell me?’ and it was confirmed that she knew that I was baby Melissa so that just made it real,” Melissa said. She then agreed to take a DNA test.
“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 sisters, wrote on Facebook.
On Thanksgiving day, Melissa reunited with one of her siblings and the parents she never knew she had.
In an interview with ABC WFAA, Melissa said that she never felt loved by the woman who raised her. She ran away from home at 15 years old and “worked the streets.” There is no word presently about the woman who kidnapped her.
For Melissa, meeting her family has been overwhelming. “It’s overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world,” Melissa says. “My heart is full, it’s bursting with emotion.”
Her mother said she is “elated” and doesn’t know how to describe her emotions. “It’s a miracle,” she said. “It’s a Christmas Miracle,” Melissa added.
Now everyone is focused on making up for lost time and put their painful memories behind them.
Melissa plans on remarrying her husband so that her father can walk her down the aisle and her family can be at her wedding.