- Bernd Debusmann Jr.
- From BBC News in Washington
Thanks to a DNA test, the Highsmith family finally found Melissa Highsmith, who was kidnapped when she was 1 year old and is now 53. There have been more than 50 years of mystery about the whereabouts of the American and searches.
Melissa was kidnapped in 1971 by a family nanny in Fort Worth, Texas, when she was just 1 year and 9 months old. The nanny was hired by Melissa’s mother, Alta Apatenco, through an advertisement in a local newspaper. Already removed from the family of origin, the child came to be called Melanie Walden.
Meanwhile, the Highsmith family conducted searches of their own, calling in police and federal authorities. In September of that year, the family received a tip that their daughter might be in the state of South Carolina. Melanie was unaware that she was being sought and, upon being contacted via Facebook by family members, she initially thought it was an online trap.
On November 6, DNA information cross-referenced by the website 23AndMe finally linked Melanie’s children to the Highsmith family.
“Our discovery of Melissa was purely because of the DNA,” Sharon Rose Highsmith, her sister, wrote on Facebook. “It wasn’t because of any police or FBI action, any podcast involvement, or even our family’s private investigations or speculations.”
The 53-year-old woman and her parents met for the first time on Nov. 26. Sharon Rose stated that they are awaiting results from “more official and legal DNA tests”.
“Although, the moment we saw her pictures, learned about her birthmark, and realized that her ‘birthday’ is so close to our Melissa’s, WE KNEW [sic] without a shadow of a doubt that it was OUR GIRL. We are, of course, waiting for an official confirmation for the pessimists of the world.”
In an interview with CBS, the BBC’s US partner, Melanie said: “It’s amazing. At the same time, it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.”
The mother, Alta Apatenco, said she “just couldn’t believe” that the family had been reunited after so many years.
“I thought I would never see her again,” he told CBS.
There is no information about the hijacker. According to Melanie, when confronted, the woman who raised her — from whom she has been estranged for decades — admitted to knowing she was a kidnapped child.
“It made it real,” Melanie said.
Although the kidnapping has long since expired, the Fort Worth Police Department said in a statement that it will continue its investigation into the child’s disappearance to piece together what happened.
Meanwhile, the family says they are making up for lost time and getting to know each other.
According to the Washington Post, Melanie intends to go back to calling herself Melissa and wants to remake her marriage with her current husband so that her father, Jeffrie Highsmith, can walk her down the aisle.