FORT WORTH, Texas (WTVO) — A missing woman who was kidnapped by her babysitter when she was only 22 months old, has been reunited with her family after 51 years.
Melissa Highsmith was abducted from her parent’s home in Fort Worth in 1971.
According to CBS News, her family announced this week that she had been found living under the name Melanie Walden.
Her family said they had been searching for her ever since she went missing, but it was a DNA test that eventually led them to her.
“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 wrote on Facebook.
In 1971, Melissa’s mother, Alta Apantenco, only 22 at the time, put an ad in a newspaper asking for a babysitter, and hired a woman who responded for the job without ever meeting her in person.
Melissa was never seen again.
Her parents were reunited with her for the first time in over five decades on Saturday.
“My father texted me on messenger and he told me, ‘You know, I’ve been looking for my daughter for 51 years,'” Melissa, now 53, said after a 23andMe DNA test connected her children to her parents.
No information on her kidnapper has been released.
“The person that raised me, I 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.
Of the reunion, she said “It is overwhelming but at the same time its the most wonderful feeling in the world. My heart right now is just full and bursting with just so much emotion. I’m just really really happy.”
A statement on the Finding Melissa Facebook page later said:
“We would like to sincerely thank and give a big applause to our genealogist enthusiast and advocate, Lisa Jo Schiele, for her guidance in helping us understand the DNA results and for leading us down the path that brought us to discovering our very own Melissa Suzanne Highsmith, who has been living in Fort Worth for most of her life!”
“The joy is palpable amongst all family members, and we invite you to celebrate and rejoice with us, and also allow our family some moments of privacy as we process this exciting news! Thank you for your support over the years!”