Woman kidnapped as a toddler in 1971 finds family 10 minutes from where she grew up in Fort Worth

A woman who disappeared 51 years ago as a baby was reunited with her parents in Fort Worth this weekend.

Melissa Highsmith, 53, was abducted by a babysitter from her mother’s Fort Worth home in 1971, months before her second birthday.

For more than half a century, her parents and siblings had been searching across the country for her, but the entire time she had been living just ten minutes away.

Melissa Highsmith (pictured) was kidnapped by a babysitter in 1971 when she was just 22 months old.

Melissa’s 53rd birthday was celebrated without her earlier this month at the Fort Worth Police Department. At the time, her father told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “We’re looking for her and we still care.”

Later that day, Melissa’s family discovered a clue that would link them to her only weeks later, after decades of agony.

It was sparked by a DNA test and the detective work of Lisa Jo Schiele, a clinical laboratory scientist and hobbyist genealogist who encouraged the family to try a 23andMe DNA test.

Melissa’s father, Jeffrie Highsmith, submitted a DNA sample to 23andMe, which returned a 100 percent match to three people. Those three people were the children of Joe Brown and his wife Melania, who turned out to be Melissa.

“It’s overwhelming and unbelievable to me,” said Sharon Highsmith, Melissa’s younger sister.

“For decades my parents have been following leads, hiring their own labs and investigators, and yet these DNA tests, which are available to anyone, helped us find our lost loved one.”

Melissa said she would officially change her name to reflect the one she was given at birth.

Alta Apantenco (Left) And Jeffrie Highsmith (Right) Are Reunited With Their Daughter Melissa (Center) After 51 Years Of Searching

Alta Apantenco (left) and Jeffrie Highsmith (right) are reunited with their daughter Melissa (center) after 51 years of searching

Melissa And Her Mother Alta, Who Left Her In The Care Of An Unknown Nanny In Fort Worth In 1971

Melissa and her mother Alta, who left her in the care of an unknown nanny in Fort Worth in 1971

The Father And Daughter Were Reunited After He Sent A Dna Sample To 23Andme That Linked Him To His Children.

The father and daughter were reunited after he sent a DNA sample to 23andMe that linked him to his children.

Melissa disappeared on August 23, 1971. Her mother Alta Apantenco, who had recently separated from her father, desperately needed a nanny to care for Melissa while she worked as a waitress.

After placing an ad in the local newspaper, Apantenco finally found someone to do the job.

During a brief phone call with a woman who identified herself as Ruth Johnson, the babysitter assured Apantenco that her son would be well taken care of.

The woman agreed to meet Apantenco at the restaurant where she worked, but she never showed up.

Then the potential babysitter called back insisting that she was right for the job.

“She said, you know, I really love kids and I have a big backyard and the kids love to play in there, and she was desperate, I needed a babysitter because she was supporting me.” Apantenco told Fox4 in 2019.

He left Melissa in the care of a roommate he lived with at the Spanish Gate Apartments on East Seminary Drive in Fort Worth, who then turned Melissa over to the unknown babysitter.

Melissa was never seen again by anyone who knew her until earlier this month.

Melissa, Whose Name Has Been Melanie Brown, Now Has Three Children With Joe Brown.

Melissa, whose name has been Melanie Brown, now has three children with Joe Brown.

Jeffrie Highsmith Told The Local Fort Worth Newspaper Earlier This Month That He Would Continue To Search For His Daughter. He Found Her Just A Few Weeks Later.

Jeffrie Highsmith told the local Fort Worth newspaper earlier this month that he would continue to search for his daughter. He found her just a few weeks later.

‘My mom did the best she could with the limited resources she had. She couldn’t risk getting fired from her. So, she trusted the person she said would take care of her child,” said Sharon Highsmith, Melissa’s sister.

‘For 50 years, my mother has lived with the guilt of losing Melissa. She has also lived with community and national accusations that she hurt or killed her own baby. I’m so glad to have Melissa back. I’m also grateful that we have a vindication for my mother.

Sharon lives in Spain and although she has never met Melissa she is looking forward to it this Christmas.

Melissa'S Brother, Jeff Highsmith, Speaks After He Is Finally Reunited With His Sister.

Melissa’s brother, Jeff Highsmith, speaks after he is finally reunited with his sister.

Melissa (Left) And Another Sister Victoria Highsmith (Right)

Melissa (left) and another sister Victoria Highsmith (right)

Jeffrie Highsmith (Left) And Melissa (Right)

Jeffrie Highsmith (left) and Melissa (right)

Earlier this year, in October, the family was flown to North Carolina to investigate a lead that Melissa had been seen there.

She was identified based on a computer generated prediction of what Melissa would look like fifty years after her baby photos.

When the family got there, they were met with disappointment. That’s when they were left thinking about DNA testing and connecting with their children.

“We had coffee with her on Thanksgiving night, and when I looked at her, I knew. I knew it,” Jeff Highsmith said, adding later that he “couldn’t take his eyes off her” when they first met her because she looked “like” her mother. he told fox.

A Computer Generated Prediction Of What Melissa Would Look Like Now (Main Image) Using Images Of Her As A Baby. The Smaller Sketch (Middle) Is A Representation Of What The Hijacker Looks Like.

A computer generated prediction of what Melissa would look like now (main image) using images of her as a baby. The smaller sketch (middle) is a representation of what the hijacker looks like.

“Our family has suffered at the hands of agencies that have mishandled this case,” Sharon said.

“Right now, we just want to meet Melissa, welcome her to the family, and make up for 50 years of lost time.”

Sharon, her siblings, and her parents encouraged other families with missing loved ones to continue to believe.

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