A babysitter picked her up one day in 1971 and never returned her. Her parents never stopped looking.
While most abductions in the U.S. are solved within hours, there are several cases where parents are never able to reunite with their lost children. For one Texas family, however, that day came after almost five decades. For Alta Apantenco and her family, the nightmare began on August 23, 1971, when she inquired about a babysitter for her 21-month-old daughter Melissa. A supposed sitter by the name of Ruth Johnson reached out to her and agreed to pick up the toddler from the family's apartment complex on East Seminary in Fort Worth, per WFAA.
Since Apantenco had to work, Melissa was handed over to Johnson by her roommate, who described the woman as well-dressed and wearing white gloves. Johnson never returned Melissa and could not be reached by any means. Although the police and the FBI soon got involved in the search for Melissa, they found little to no clues for over five decades.
The amazing disappearance, search and reunion of Melissa Highsmith.— Chris Sadeghi (@chrissadeghi) November 28, 2022
Abducted as a toddler 51 years ago, her family never stopped looking and now they believe they found her.
And she was living just 20 minutes from where she was taken in 1971. #IAmUp https://t.co/Oi1MswJt0l
However, Melissa's family never stopped searching for her and a DNA test finally helped them solve the case this month. Melissa—who grew up as Melanie Miyoko—had no idea she had been kidnapped until recently when her biological father, Jeffrie, sent her a message through Facebook.
"He was going through his DNA, and these three names popped up, and he didn't know who they were. But it has his DNA, and it had her DNA. It was two boys and a girl. He didn't understand, and he called his daughter Rebecca who had been working on it. Then my son reached out to her with a friend request, and she accepted it. And he was telling her all these things about Melissa being kidnapped, and she said, 'I'm sorry, I don't think I'm that person,'" said Apantenco. Melissa's family was shocked to learn that she was raised just 10 minutes from where she was abducted, reports PEOPLE.
Melissa Highsmith went missing when she was kidnapped by a babysitter at her parents' Fort Worth home in 1971. She was just 22 months old at the time of her disappearance. https://t.co/zMuCYsQJ2a— 48 Hours (@48hours) November 28, 2022
"I feel like I am dreaming, and I keep having to pinch myself to make sure I'm awake," admitted Melissa. Meanwhile, Apantenco said: "I’m just elated, I can't describe my feelings. I'm so happy to see my daughter that I didn't think I would ever see her again." Melissa's father Jeffrie revealed that he "cried like a baby" when he found out she is well and alive.
The family announced the happy news on their Facebook page and said that even though they were still waiting for an official confirmation at the time, they "knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was our girl." They added: "The joy is palpable amongst all family members, and we invite you to celebrate and rejoice with us, and also allow our family some moments of privacy as we process this exciting news! Thank you for your support over the years!"
Melissa Highsmith, #missing for 51 years, #FOUND in Fort Worth!#MelissaHighsmith went missing when she was kidnapped by a #babysitter at her parents' #FortWorth home in 1971. She was just 22 months old at the time of her disappearance.https://t.co/gjbjdtGrar pic.twitter.com/UFye6mrEnG— The Last Show- Karen Lee (@thelastshow) November 28, 2022
Melissa was really hurt when she found out about her birth parents. According to Jeffrie, his daughter contacted the woman she called "mom" over Facebook messenger and asked: "Do you have anything to say to me? 'Am I this little girl?'" Jeffrie added, "The mother confessed. I bought you for $500 on the street, she said in 1972. Melissa thinks she's the one that kidnapped her from the Spanish Gate apartment in Fort Worth, Texas."
Melissa stated that she now plans on officially changing her name from Melanie back to Melissa and also intends to remarry her present husband so that her father may walk her down the aisle and her entire family can attend her wedding.