In 1971, Melissa Highsmith went missing when she was kidnapped by a babysitter at just 22 months old, but her family has just solved the case.
After 51 years, they are making up for lost time and getting to know one another.
Melissa Highsmith sat next to her parents and looked at photos of herself that she has never seen before.
“It is overwhelming, but at the same time it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world,” she said.
Her mother, Alta Apantencl, says she thought she would never see her daughter again.
“After 51 years, it’s so emotional,” her father Jeffrie Highsmith said.
The heartwrenching search to find Melissa Highsmith has been on the minds of the family for decades, but it was not until September when a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children thought there was a sighting of her in Charleston, South Carolina.
While the tip failed, it got the family to keep pushing to find her.
After a 23 and Me DNA test came back with a match linking Melissa Highsmith’s children with their family, they reached out to her over Facebook and at first, she thought it was a scam.
“My father texted me on messenger and he told me, you know, ‘I’ve been looking for my daughter for 51 years,’” she said.
The entire time, Melissa Highsmith did not know her real family was trying to find her.
“The person that raised me, I asked her, ‘Is there anything you need to tell me?’ and it was confirmed that she knew that I was baby Melissa, so that just made it real,” she said.
Melissa Highsmith agreed to take a DNA test and on Thanksgiving, she met her brother and later, her parents.
“That was the best day that I ever had my whole life, when I saw Melissa again,” Apantencl said.
Melissa Highsmith’s brother, Jeff Highsmith, said meeting her for the first time was “a dream come true.”
“I’m thankful to have her back,” her sister Victoria Highsmith said.