DNA testing has confirmed the identity of a Texas woman who was allegedly abducted by her own babysitter when she was 22 months old, and reunited with them after 51 long and painful years apart.
The Fort Worth Police Department announced that they had “completed official DNA testing which confirmed Melissa Highsmith’s identity”, while noting their hope that “this test result will offer additional closure for the Highsmith family”.
While they requested that anyone with more information come forward, the criminal statute of limitations expired 20 years after Melissa’s 18th birthday.
As NBC Dallas-Forth Worth reported, Melissa’s own mother was initially suspected of possibly killing her and then covering up the crime, and the family claimed that a babysitter had been responsible for taking her back in 1971.
Melissa’s disappearance had been one of America’s oldest missing persons cases, according to WFAA.
And while Melissa’s family had spent decades searching for their long lost loved one, it wasn’t until November 2022 that they made their first major breakthrough, when a 23andMe DNA test presented a link between Melissa and her biological parents. It was these same results that the Fort Worth Police Department was seeking to confirm.
“I feel like I am dreaming,” Melissa told WFAA upon reuniting with her parents after their life changing discovery, “and I keep having to pinch myself to make sure I’m awake.”
“I’m just elated, I can’t describe my feelings,” Melissa’s mother, Alta Apantenco, added, “I’m so happy to see my daughter that I didn’t think I would ever see her again.”
Meanwhile, her father Jeffrie Highsmith admitted that he “cried like a baby”.
Melissa went on to tell her family that she had had a difficult life, even going so far as to run away from home, and that she’d done “what I had to do to get by”.
“I didn’t feel loved as a child,” she said. “It was abusive, and I ran away at 15 years old.”
And the whole time, she’d been living just 20 minutes from her biological family.
That same family who are overjoyed to have their beloved Melissa back with them, and took to social media to update followers, sharing the delightful news that their search was – finally – over.
“The results were exactly what we already knew. She was in fact Melissa Suzanne HIghsmith!” they wrote on their Facebook page. “We now have the OFFICIAL confirmation that she is ours! Our daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece. We are thrilled! We are thankful and grateful for all the love and support we have received over the years and especially since we found Melissa.
“Our family is whole and we look forward to the time we will be able to spend as a family of 7!”
This article first appeared on Over60.