A Texas woman kidnapped as a baby 51 years ago was reunited with her family after they used a home DNA test kit to track her down.
Melissa Highsmith was 22 months old when she was allegedly abducted in August 1971 by a babysitter from her family's Fort Worth apartment, according to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.
Her mother, Alta Apantenco, was reportedly accused by police of possibly killing her daughter and hiding the crime, the station reported. The family, however, said Highsmith was taken from the home by a babysitter who answered Apantenco's newspaper advertisement seeking help.
They spent more than five decades looking for Highsmith before a DNA match on 23andMe provided a break in the case.
"Our finding Melissa was purely because of DNA, not because of any police / FBI involvement, podcast involvement, or even our family’s own private investigations or speculations," her family said Sunday on a Facebook page titled "We found Melissa!!!" "DNA WINS THIS SEARCH!"
Sister Victoria Highsmith told NBC Dallas-Fort Worth that the DNA matched samples from Melissa Highsmith's children. The Highsmiths' parents then provided their own DNA samples.
Within three weeks, the family had found Melissa Highsmith.
"It was like, ‘Boom, boom, boom,’ we found her," Victoria Highsmith said.
A spokesperson for 23andMe said it has never heard of a case like this one.
"There are really no words to describe how incredible this story is. We are so grateful Melissa and her family were able to reunite after such a long period of time, and we wish them all the best in getting to know one another," the spokesperson said.
Melissa Highsmith, who grew up as Melanie, was reunited with her family Saturday, weeks after her parents and siblings held a news conference Nov. 6 for her 53rd birthday.
"I couldn’t stop crying. I was overjoyed, and I’m still walking around in a fog trying to comprehend that my sister is right in front of me and that we found her," Victoria Highsmith said. "It’s a Christmas miracle! It’s amazing meeting her. It was like looking into myself. She looks like me, like us. She’s overjoyed to be in our lives."
Another sister, Sharon Rose Highsmith, wrote on Facebook that Melissa had been living in Fort Worth for most of her life. Melissa told her family that she did not have a good life and that she ran away from home at 15, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reports. She said she will also be changing her name back to her birth name.
Fort Worth police did not provide details about the case but said they were "overjoyed to hear about how the Highsmith’s use of 23andme led them to Melissa."
"The Fort Worth Police Department will be conducting official DNA testing to confirm Melissa’s identity, and the department will provide an update once the official results have come in," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
An arrest cannot be made because the criminal statute of limitations expired 20 years after her 18th birthday, the police department said, noting that investigators are still working to uncover all available information about the kidnapping.