A U.S. woman who was allegedly kidnapped by her babysitter more than 50 years ago made an emotional and joyous reunion with her birth family over the weekend.
According to a report from news station WCIV, Melissa Highsmith was found by her family with the help of a DNA test and police assistance.
Melissa was just 22 months old when she was allegedly kidnapped in August of 1971 by a babysitter her mother had found after taking out a newspaper ad asking for help with child care.
Melissa’s biological mother, Alta Apantenco, was a single mom working full time in Fort Worth, Texas, and needed someone to take care of her daughter.
ABC News reports that since Apantenco had to be at work, her roommate was there to greet the babysitter, whom Apantenco had hired over the phone but never met.
The babysitter, who identified herself by the name of Ruth Johnson, was supposed to take Melissa for the day. But she never returned with the baby and could not be reached.
Melissa was reported missing to police, but police at the time said they discovered no evidence that she was harmed. Instead, ABC reports, police said they hoped whoever had Highsmith was taking good care of her.
Melissa’s birth family shared with NBC News that Apantenco faced years of accusations from police that she had possibly killed her daughter and covered up the crime.
Melissa’s family said they never stopped looking for her, and their diligence paid off just last week when results of a DNA test linked their family to Melissa’s children.
The family said they convinced Melissa’s dad to take a 23andMe DNA test. When the test results came back on Nov. 22, there was a 100 per cent match to Highsmith’s three children.
“One of our sisters called her daughter — the youngest one — and her daughter led us to her mom,” Jeff Highsmith, Melissa’s younger brother, told Fox News Digital.
“We had coffee with her on Thanksgiving night, and when I looked at her, I just knew. I knew,” Jeff said, adding he “couldn’t take” his eyes off Highsmith because she looked “just like” his mother.
Amazingly, Melissa — who now goes by Melanie Brown but is considering changing her name back to Melissa — was raised 10 minutes from the apartment building where she went missing.
Staff at KTVT in Fort Worth sat down with Melissa and her birth parents over the weekend while they browsed old baby photos.
“It is overwhelming, but at the same time it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world,” Melissa said, adding that she questioned the woman who raised her about the situation, and she confirmed that she was the missing baby Melissa.
The Highsmith family, along with dozens of supporters, are celebrating the good news in a Facebook group set up to find their missing family member.
It wasn’t immediately clear Monday what became of the babysitter or if the woman who raised Highsmith was the same person believed to have abducted her.