DNA match reunites missing daughter with her family after 51 years, family says

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CNN

A family in Fort Worth, Texas, has been reunited with their daughter who was abducted as a baby more than five decades ago thanks to a DNA match from family tree service 23andMe, the family announced on Sunday.

Melissa Highsmith was just 22 months old in 1971 when she was reportedly kidnapped by a woman hired to babysit her, according to reports from the family over the years.

Highsmith — raised by the name Melanie — has lived in Fort Worth for much of her life, not knowing she was missing, according to CNN affiliate KTVT.

She had no idea her family was looking for her until they contacted her on Facebook, she told the branch. At first she thought the message might be a scam.

“My dad texted me on Messenger and he said to me, ‘You know, I’ve been looking for my daughter for 51 years,'” Highsmith told KTVT.

The family found Highsmith through a DNA match with one of her children on 23andMe, KTVT reported.

“The person who raised me, I asked her, ‘Is there something you need to tell me?’ and it was confirmed that she knew I was baby Melissa, so that just made it real,” Highsmith told the affiliate.

Highsmith’s parents reunited with her for the first time on Saturday and conducted further “official and legal DNA testing,” the family wrote online.

“Although the moment we saw her photos, we discovered her birthmark and realized her ‘birthday’ is so close to our Melissa, WE KNEW beyond a shadow of doubt that this was OUR GIRL,” the family added in a Facebook post. message. post announcing the news.

A profile of Highsmith’s case by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System notes that the missing baby had a birthmark on her upper back. The report also includes a sketch of the alleged babysitter and pictures of Melissa’s age progression.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” her mother, Alta Apantenco, told KTVT with tears in her eyes, recalling the reunion. “I thought I would never see her again.”

“Our find of Melissa was purely because of DNA, not police/FBI involvement, podcast involvement or even our family’s private investigations or speculation,” one of the Highsmith family members wrote on Facebook.

The Fort Worth Police Department was “overjoyed” that 23andMe led the family to Melissa, it said in a statement Monday, adding that it would conduct official DNA testing to confirm Melissa’s identity.

The criminal statute of limitations expired 20 years after Melissa’s 18th birthday, but the department said it would continue its investigation to “discover all available information about Melissa’s abduction that occurred 51 years ago.”

Highsmith hugs her father as she reunites after decades of separation.

At the time of Highsmith’s disappearance, her mother said she placed an ad in the newspaper seeking a babysitter to care for her baby while she worked, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Apantenco said a woman responded to the ad and offered to check Melissa’s home, the newspaper reported. When the woman arrived to pick up the baby, she said that Apantenco’s roommate was taking care of the child. The roommate gave the baby to the woman, she told the paper, and the woman never came back.

The incident has always haunted Apantenco, who went on to have four more children, according to the Highsmith family.

“My mother did her best with the limited resources she had. She couldn’t risk being fired. So she trusted the person who said they would take care of her child,” Sharon Highsmith, Melissa’s younger sister, said in a press release. “For 50 years my mother has lived with the guilt of losing Melissa. She has also lived with accusations from the community and the entire country that she hurt or killed her own baby. I’m so glad we got Melissa back. I am also grateful that we have a justification for my mother.”

The family says they want others who miss loved ones to continue to believe.

“Never give up hope,” Sharon said. “Chase every trail.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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