US News: DNA reunites woman with biological family decades after kidnapping

A Fort Worth, Tex., woman who was kidnapped as a toddler has been reunited with her biological family 51 years later ,thanks to a DNA test.

Melissa Highsmith grew up as Melanie Brown after a babysitter never returned the toddler to her mother.

The victim didn’t know she’d been kidnapped and her family, who never stopped looking for her, did not know she was living just 20 minutes away.

Then her father, Jeffrie Highsmith, took a 23andMe test to learn about his ancestry and discovered much more. He matched with Brown’s children.

Receiving an email about the connection, he was in shock.

“I feel like I am dreaming, and I keep having to pinch myself to make sure I’m awake,” he told WFAA-TV.

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After decades of failed leads and stalled investigations, among the oldest missing person’s case in the country was solved almost by accident.

It was Aug. 23, 1971 when Melissa’s mother, Alta Apantenco, left the child with her roommate. She in turn handed the child off to a babysitter. The babysitter never returned.

“Though missing for decades, the family never forgot about Melissa,” the family said Sunday on Facebook. “They continued to throw birthday parties for her, including the most recent one in November. That same day, the family found a match in DNA results.”

By the time she was found, Brown was married with three children.

The Fort Worth Police Department is running its own tests to confirm Melissa Highsmith’s identity and are continuing to investigate, though the statute of limitations for kidnapping has expired.

“The Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) is overjoyed to hear about how the Highsmith’s use of 23andme led them to Melissa,” the department told the Daily News in a statement, adding that it is “committed to completing this investigation to uncover all of the available information concerning Melissa’s abduction that occurred 51 years ago.”

With News Wire Services