Baby taken away by babysitter 5 decades ago reunited with elderly parents who never gave up searching for her

A supposed babysitter picked up a 21-month-old girl from their apartment in 1971. From that day on, the toddler’s family didn’t see her again. After 51 years since the abduction, they reunited with her through a DNA match.

On August 23, 1971, Alta Apatenco made a newspaper inquiry about a babysitter for her one-year-old daughter Melissa. A woman reached out to her, introducing herself as the babysitter.

Trusting the woman, she allowed her to pick her daughter up from their apartment complex in Fort Worth, Texas.

Little Melissa with her parents
Source: Jeffrie Highsmith

Apantenco was busy with work so her roommate handed Melissa to the babysitter, which according to her, was well-dressed and was wearing white gloves. Since then, they didn’t see or heard from Melissa again. The police did an investigation but didn’t find a lot of clues for five decades.

Melissa’s family never forgot about her for the past decades. They even threw out birthday parties for her every year. All those years, they did not give up on her or lose hope that they would one day be reunited with Melissa.

Missing person bulletin for Melissa
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

For decades, Melissa’s family did everything they could to find her. They left comments on discussion forums set up for her case and hurried to other states when they thought they had a lead.

They also set up a Facebook page called “Finding Melissa Highsmith” and asked for help in finding their missing relative.

Melissa’s family has relied on police assistance for years to find Melissa but it was their private search that finally led them to her. Jeffrie Highsmith, Melissa’s father, was going through his DNA and found three matches.

It was two boys and a girl. They did not understand the matches so they asked for the help of Lisa Jo Schiele, a genealogist.

Melissa's mother poses next to suspect's poster
Source: Jeffrie Highsmith

Schiele used charts to interpret the key DNA results and find the relationship between the three children and Melissa.

“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 reached out to the children’s adoptive father who helped them locate Melissa’s Facebook profile. They sent her a message and Melissa did not want to believe what they said about her real identity.

Melissa with her biological parents
Facebook

They told her about the birthmark on Melissa’s back and she eventually agreed to a DNA test.  

Melissa could not believe what she found out about her real identity and how her real family lost her. She was overwhelmed but also very happy when she finally reunited with her family.

“I feel like I am dreaming, and I keep having to pinch myself to make sure I’m awake,” Melissa said.

Melissa's then and now photos
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

It turns out that Melissa did not know she was abducted as a toddler. She grew up as Melanie Miyoko and was raised just 10 minutes from where she was abducted, which came as a huge surprise to her biological family.

Melissa’s mother, who thought she would never see her daughter again, was elated to see her missing daughter after 51 long years. Her father, on the other hand, cried out like a baby when he knew she was well and alive.  

Melissa reunited with her real family
Source: Jeffrie Highsmith

Melissa could not help but be angry at her “mom” who raised her. She confronted her on Facebook and confessed that she bought her on the street for $500. However, Melissa thinks she’s the babysitter who abducted her from their apartment in Fort Worth.

Melissa shared that she is planning to change her name officially and remarry her husband so her father can walk her down the aisle and her whole family can witness her wedding.

Melissa and her mother reunite
Source: Good Morning America

The statute of limitation for the case has expired but her siblings are glad they reunited with her and their mother is now free of guilt and accusations that she killed Melissa and was just hiding her.

“My mom did the best she could with the limited resources she had – she couldn’t risk getting fired, so she trusted the person who said they’d care for her child,” Sharon Highsmith said. “I’m grateful. We have vindication for my mom.”

Watch this video and witness Melissa’s heartwarming reunion with her family:

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