She was kidnapped as a baby in 1971. Her family just found her alive.

cigaretteman

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On many birthdays of his long-ago kidnapped sister, Jeff Highsmith would hold a vigil to remember her.
His family gathered this month in Fort Worth, where Melissa Highsmith had disappeared 51 years ago. They sang “Happy Birthday” and released white balloons as a sign of their continued devotion.

The same day, the family made a stunning discovery: Melissa might be alive — and reachable.

“When we saw her picture — oh my God,” said her sister, Sharon Highsmith.
“It was incredible,” added another sister, Rebecca Del Bosque. “It was like looking at yourself.”
Melissa, 53, reunited last week with her parents and two of her siblings for the first time in more than five decades thanks to a home DNA test, a marriage certificate and the help of an amateur genealogist, the family said Sunday in an announcement, previously reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.



After living most of her life as “Melanie,” Melissa is awaiting the results of a lab DNA test to confirm her identity. Fort Worth police said Monday that they would provide a public update after receiving the results but were “overjoyed” that the family had found its missing member.
The Highsmiths are confident that they have found the right person. In addition to a 23andMe DNA kit that linked Melissa’s father, Jeffrie Highsmith, with one of her children, there are all the little things that make it feel right: A birthmark on Melissa’s back that matches one she had as a baby. The way she puts jalapeños on her nachos, mirroring her siblings’ love of spicy foods. The fact that she has a dog named Charlie, just like one of her sisters.
A swirl of questions remains around Melissa’s disappearance. The family doesn’t know whether the woman who raised her was the kidnapper or how she came to be her guardian. Fort Worth police said although the statute of limitations for criminal charges has long expired, they would continue to investigate.



Melissa was 21 months old in August 1971, when her newly separated mother, Alta Apantenco, placed an ad in a newspaper seeking a babysitter. A woman responded and said she could meet Apantenco, a waitress, at the restaurant where she worked. But she never came.
Later, the prospective babysitter called. She had a large backyard and also cared for other children, she told Apantenco. Could she watch Melissa there?
Desperate for child care so she could keep her job, Apantenco agreed. While she was at work, the woman went to her apartment and picked up Melissa from Apantenco’s roommate.
The woman, who the roommate said was wearing white gloves, never returned the child.
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For decades, the family searched. They did podcast and newspaper interviews to keep Melissa in the spotlight. They commented on a Websleuths discussion forum set up for the case. They rushed to other states when they thought they had a lead.











In September, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children got an anonymous tip that someone who looked like an age-progressed photo of Melissa had been spotted in South Carolina. That clue, too, fell flat. But the almost-breakthrough reinvigorated the family, who rededicated themselves to finding Melissa.
Then, on Nov. 6, Jeffrie Highsmith’s 23andMe results came back. He had matched with a granddaughter he didn’t know he had. Then Del Bosque looked at her account on the genealogy site Ancestry.com and saw that the granddaughter shared a last name with two boys who might be her nephews.
“We realized what that meant was that’s a sibling match,” Sharon Highsmith said. “Those are a sibling’s children.”

The sisters referred the DNA results to Lisa Jo Schiele, an amateur genealogist who used charts showing the amount of DNA shared between different types of relatives to confirm that the three children belonged to one of the women’s siblings.










“I came in and tried to look at if there were any other possibilities besides these being such close matches to Melissa,” Schiele said. “And it didn’t take me long to realize — I mean, I knew right away that there wasn’t.”
Schiele connected with the children’s adoptive father, who remembered the first name that Melissa was using, as well as her ex-husband’s full name. That was enough information for the sisters to find a marriage record, which led them to Melissa’s Facebook page. They sent her a message.

Melissa didn’t believe at first that the Highsmiths were her family. Then they mentioned the birthmark on Melissa’s back, and she agreed to take a DNA test.
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So after more than five decades, Jeffrie Highsmith and Apantenco re-met their daughter Saturday in an emotional reunion at a lab in Fort Worth, the region where Melissa had lived for most of her life. After taking the DNA tests that they hope will confirm their connection, they went out to lunch.


“There’s no doubt in our mind,” about Melissa’s identity, Del Bosque said. “We just are waiting for the legal confirmation.”
Melissa’s life without her family of origin wasn’t easy. Her sisters said she had a strained relationship with the woman who raised her and left home at age 15. Confronted recently, the woman confirmed knowing that Melissa was the kidnapping victim, Sharon Highsmith said.

Now, Melissa is adjusting to the fact that she has two parents, four siblings, and countless nieces and nephews who were desperate to find her.
“She thought she didn’t have a lot of family, and she just found out that she has a huge family who loves her and never stopped looking for her,” Del Bosque said.
Despite living as “Melanie” for most of her life, Melissa now wants to use her original first name, her sisters said. She wants to spend more time with their mother, with whom she felt an immediate connection.
And she wants to redo her wedding to her current husband, her sisters said, so her father can walk her down the aisle.

 

NDallasRuss

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What a great ending - I'm glad they were able to reunite.

I'm amazed that there's a statute of limitations that could expire for stealing a baby: that seems like the thing you should always be able to be convicted and punished for. After all, the pain didn't stop for the victims 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, so why should the kidnapper get off free?!
 

fredjr82

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What a great ending - I'm glad they were able to reunite.

I'm amazed that there's a statute of limitations that could expire for stealing a baby: that seems like the thing you should always be able to be convicted and punished for. After all, the pain didn't stop for the victims 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, so why should the kidnapper get off free?!

I'm sure the family is thrilled she's alive and came back. But I find myself wondering how healthy the relationship can really be? While she is still your flesh and blood, you didn't instill any values in them, never really taught them anything, didn't provide any guidance in troubled times, etc. None of which is the family's fault, but how can a 51 year old person just "switch" families? There really has to be some barriers in place to make that work?
 

Hawki97

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I'm sure the family is thrilled she's alive and came back. But I find myself wondering how healthy the relationship can really be? While she is still your flesh and blood, you didn't instill any values in them, never really taught them anything, didn't provide any guidance in troubled times, etc. None of which is the family's fault, but how can a 51 year old person just "switch" families? There really has to be some barriers in place to make that work?

Or her old family was so terrible anything is better. I mean, they were kidnappers. ;)
 

bunsen82

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I'm sure the family is thrilled she's alive and came back. But I find myself wondering how healthy the relationship can really be? While she is still your flesh and blood, you didn't instill any values in them, never really taught them anything, didn't provide any guidance in troubled times, etc. None of which is the family's fault, but how can a 51 year old person just "switch" families? There really has to be some barriers in place to make that work?
No different than an inlaw, with maybe a better connection, but I do agree a lack of history may make it slightly difficult. However, if she has long looked for a family and this family has desperately looked for they both may do what is needed to build a pretty strong relationship.
 

fredjr82

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Or her old family was so terrible anything is better. I mean, they were kidnappers. ;)

Agreed. I'm not saying she's not in a better place. I'm just saying that at 40, if someone approached me tomorrow and said who I know as my parents aren't my real parents, I couldn't just "turn it on". I wouldn't be planning Christmas a week from now with them. It takes some time to process. I'm just curious how long.

Also, I didn't read the article but how bad could the kidnappers been if she is still alive at 51? People who steal babies are SOTE, but most don't want to hurt the child. Mental illness as they want so badly to be a mother/father/guardian.
 

B1GDeal

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Wonder what this lady is feeling. Her mom is a criminal who kidnapped her. Was she good to her or a terrible person towards her? I'm sure that makes a difference but still has to be really hard to cope with while trying to get to know your real family who thought you were dead.
 
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fredjr82

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No different than an inlaw, with maybe a better connection, but I do agree a lack of history may make it slightly difficult. However, if she has long looked for a family and this family has desperately looked for they both may do what is needed to build a pretty strong relationship.

Melissa has been living in Fort Worth for most of her life and never knew she had been kidnapped. While it appears she did have a hard life and ran away at 15 from her kidnappers, she never knew about the other family.
 
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Hawki97

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Agreed. I'm not saying she's not in a better place. I'm just saying that at 40, if someone approached me tomorrow and said who I know as my parents aren't my real parents, I couldn't just "turn it on". I wouldn't be planning Christmas a week from now with them. It takes some time to process. I'm just curious how long.

Also, I didn't read the article but how bad could the kidnappers been if she is still alive at 51? People who steal babies are SOTE, but most don't want to hurt the child. Mental illness as they want so badly to be a mother/father/guardian.

From the article she didn't get along with the woman and left the house at 15. Didn't sound too good. But who knows.

I agree I couldn't turn it on automatically. But she may be one of those types that has been wanting a family her whole life and found a (maybe good) option. It will depend on the individual and their life experience. However it works out...hopefully it's a net positive for everyone.
 

fredjr82

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Wonder what this lady is feeling. Her mom is a criminal who kidnapped her. Was she good to her or a terrible person towards her? I'm sure that makes a difference but still has to be really hard to cope with while trying to get to know your real family who thought you were dead.

From another article:

Melissa said she didn't have a good life and she ran away from home at the age of 15. She also confirmed that she will be changing her name from Melanie and back to her birth name.
 
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hawkmart

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Happy her parents get a happy ending but man 51 years searching is brutal.
 

bunsen82

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Melissa has been living in Fort Worth for most of her life and never knew she had been kidnapped. While it appears she did have a hard life and ran away at 15 from her kidnappers, she never knew about the other family.
It states in there she had strained relationship with her mother. Likely never felt like she had a connection with the adult who was raising her. So if she always yearned for a positive relationship, she may be able to receive that, although it will be much later in life and likely for a short time with her mother.
 

B1GDeal

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It states in there she had strained relationship with her mother. Likely never felt like she had a connection with the adult who was raising her. So if she always yearned for a positive relationship, she may be able to receive that, although it will be much later in life and likely for a short time with her mother.
That sucks. Like, the police or FBI should be able to do something.... anything.
 

TailgateTom

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Agreed. I'm not saying she's not in a better place. I'm just saying that at 40, if someone approached me tomorrow and said who I know as my parents aren't my real parents, I couldn't just "turn it on". I wouldn't be planning Christmas a week from now with them. It takes some time to process. I'm just curious how long.

Also, I didn't read the article but how bad could the kidnappers been if she is still alive at 51? People who steal babies are SOTE, but most don't want to hurt the child. Mental illness as they want so badly to be a mother/father/guardian.
This is kind of a wild story--

Last January a good friend of mine's mother approached him and told him they had to talk. He was expecting to hear the worst from her (health, finances, etc.) but she dropped the bombshell on him: "your dad really isn't your dad." 39 years, and he never knew. What's worse, the man who raised him knew before he was born the kid wasn't' his---but he raised him anyway, married to my buddy's mom the whole time (they ended up divorcing about 5 years ago).

She refused to tell him who his bio dad was at first, but he did some internet sleuthing (after doing the 23 and me a couple years ago and getting some confusing results) and was able to find out who it was. PLOST TWIST, his bio dad is none other than his moms new boyfriend! He's taking it all in stride, and has a sense of humor about it, though it did mess him up for a few weeks. I could never do that--I'd be so pissed. The man who raised him is still "dad" and bio dad is "(dudes first name)". What's even sadder is bio dad didn't even know my friend existed until he was 3 years old.

He's trying to have a relationship with bio dad, but I don't think anything more than viewing him as "mom's boyfriend". I can't blame him on that one. Bio dad mad a snide comment to him (in a joking manner) and my buddy goes, "you better watch it--you owe me for 18 years back child support, birthday and Christmas presents." lol!

What's even wilder, 23 and Me information lead him to discover that his Bio grandmother lived across the street from his wife's grandmother in Indiana. They even shared the same last name which freaked him the F out until he discovered that while the grandmothers shared the same last name and lived in the same place they were completely unrelated.
 

fredjr82

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This is kind of a wild story--

Last January a good friend of mine's mother approached him and told him they had to talk. He was expecting to hear the worst from her (health, finances, etc.) but she dropped the bombshell on him: "your dad really isn't your dad." 39 years, and he never knew. What's worse, the man who raised him knew before he was born the kid wasn't' his---but he raised him anyway, married to my buddy's mom the whole time (they ended up divorcing about 5 years ago).

She refused to tell him who his bio dad was at first, but he did some internet sleuthing (after doing the 23 and me a couple years ago and getting some confusing results) and was able to find out who it was. PLOST TWIST, his bio dad is none other than his moms new boyfriend! He's taking it all in stride, and has a sense of humor about it, though it did mess him up for a few weeks. I could never do that--I'd be so pissed. The man who raised him is still "dad" and bio dad is "(dudes first name)". What's even sadder is bio dad didn't even know my friend existed until he was 3 years old.

He's trying to have a relationship with bio dad, but I don't think anything more than viewing him as "mom's boyfriend". I can't blame him on that one. Bio dad mad a snide comment to him (in a joking manner) and my buddy goes, "you better watch it--you owe me for 18 years back child support, birthday and Christmas presents." lol!

What's even wilder, 23 and Me information lead him to discover that his Bio grandmother lived across the street from his wife's grandmother in Indiana. They even shared the same last name which freaked him the F out until he discovered that while the grandmothers shared the same last name and lived in the same place they were completely unrelated.

Shit is "Stranger than Fiction". What a tough spot to be put in. Just awkward for everyone.
 

TailgateTom

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Shit is "Stranger than Fiction". What a tough spot to be put in. Just awkward for everyone.
OMG no joke. His dad was planning Thanksgiving, and suggested to his mom that she and bio dad just come and have it with them (his dad is a damn good dude, but that's just weird.) My buddy told both his parents, "WTF ever you guys feel comfortable with--this is all completely bizarre AF anyway." I don't think they went through with it.

I asked him if he told his own kids and he said he did and that his mom was mad at him for it. He told her, "you chose to keep this secret for 39 years. I'm chosing to stop the secrets. This is our reality, and came from decisions you made." I respected that. I know it wasn't an easy conversation to have with his kids who are all old enough to understand the gravity of the situation.
 

fredjr82

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OMG no joke. His dad was planning Thanksgiving, and suggested to his mom that she and bio dad just come and have it with them (his dad is a damn good dude, but that's just weird.) My buddy told both his parents, "WTF ever you guys feel comfortable with--this is all completely bizarre AF anyway." I don't think they went through with it.

Is the buddy an only child of this mother and the supposed father or did they have more kids? Did the pregnancy happen while the mom and the supposed dad were married or did they get together after the fact?
 
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TailgateTom

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Is the buddy an only child of this mother and the supposed father or did they have more kids? Did the pregnancy happen while the mom and the supposed dad were married or did they get together after the fact?
Buddy has several step siblings, and a sister from dad and mom. She of course asked if dad was her dad too, and he was lol! Pregnancy happened while mom and dad were married.
 

fredjr82

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Buddy has several step siblings, and a sister from dad and mom. She of course asked if dad was her dad too, and he was lol! Pregnancy happened while mom and dad were married.

JFC. That "dad" is more of a saint than a nice guy. The mom sounds like a POS. I would have told her not to speak to me for a little while. If I decided I wanted a relationship after that, I'd reach out. Maybe makes it hard with kids/grandkids but how the F do you ever look at her the same? Trust has to be shattered.
 

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