Woman Who Disappeared 51 Years Ago Found In Texas

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Taylor Giles Contributor
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A woman who was kidnapped 51 years ago was found in Fort Worth, Texas, last week.

Melissa Highsmith was 22 months old when she was allegedly kidnapped by her babysitter in 1971, according to a report published Sunday by CBS DFW. Her family had searched all over, including recently in North Carolina.

Highsmith was eventually found in Fort Worth through DNA testing, CBS DFW reported. She was reportedly living under the name Melanie Walden when she was found.

Highsmith was originally kidnapped while her mother Alta Apantenco was at work, NBC DFW reported. Apantenco put an ad in a local newspaper for a babysitter and hired a woman without meeting her. She then left Highsmith with her roommate until the babysitter arrived who handed Highsmith off to the babysitter who allegedly abducted her, according to the outlet.

Apantenco reportedly faced years of scrutiny from police who allegedly accused her of killing her daughter, NBC DFW reported.

“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, posted on Facebook.

Highsmith’s family was able to track her down using 23andMe, NBC DFW reported. Her mother, however, was apprehensive about taking another test. She had previously unsuccessfully compared her DNA with six other women in the hope of finding her daughter. (RELATED: Police Identify Remains Of Girl Who Went Missing In 1969)

“She has carried this pain and this guilt for 51 years and I have watched her cry for three days of joy,” Victoria Highsmith, another sister, said, according to NBC DFW. “I have never seen my mother so happy.”

“It’s overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world,” Highsmith said, according to CBS DFW.

Highsmith was able to see her parents and siblings for the first time since she was kidnapped, CBS DFW reported. She plans to change her name back to Melissa Highsmith.

“My heart right now is just full and bursting with just so much emotion. I’m just really, really happy,” Highsmith added, CBS DFW reported.

Highsmith ran away when she was 15 after being kidnapped, NBC DFW reported. Authorities have not yet released information on her alleged kidnapper, according to CBS DFW.