Toddler Who Was Kidnapped By Her Babysitter Reunited With Family Over Five Decades Later

On Aug. 23, 1971, Melissa Highsmith was kidnapped by her babysitter in Fort Worth, Texas. 51 years later, DNA testing helped her family find her.

Updated on August 23, 2023
From left to right: Alta Apantenco, Melissa Highsmith, and Jeffrie Highsmith.

On Aug. 23, 1971, Melissa Highsmith was kidnapped by her babysitter in Fort Worth, Texas. 51 years later, DNA testing helped her family find her.

Photo by: NCMEC


On Nov. 27, 2022, the family of Melissa Highsmith announced that they had been reunited with their daughter who was kidnapped as a toddler more than five decades ago.

The family found Highsmith through a DNA match with one of her children on the ancestry service 23andMe. According to CNN, Melissa did not know her family was searching for her until her father reached out to her through Facebook.

“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,” Melissa said, CNN reported.

The family reunited on Nov. 26, and six months later, the Fort Worth Police Department released news that a DNA test had confirmed Melissa's identity.

In May 2023, Melissa, who was raised as Melanie Miyoko, legally changed her name to Melissa Highsmith, according to PEOPLE.

The Fort Worth Police Department said they plan to continue to investigate and get more details on Melissa’s 1971 abduction.

ORIGINAL: 09/15/22

Toddler Who Was Kidnapped By Her Babysitter May Have Been Spotted 51 Years Later

Back on Aug. 23, 1971, 21-month-old Melissa Highsmith was kidnapped by her babysitter in Fort Worth, Texas. In September 2022, after being missing for 51 years, she might have been found alive.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received a tip about a possible sighting of the woman in Charleston, South Carolina. A woman who matched her age-progressed image was spotted by an anonymous tipster.

“Even though we don’t know if this tip will lead to answers, we know law enforcement is working steadfastly and we hope that his information and the renewed attention the public has for Melissa will continue to bring awareness that she is still missing,” John Bischoff, the vice president of the missing children division at NCMEC explained in a news release.

“We know that answers are always possible. The public is vital to bringing home missing children and we know that it only takes one person to see the right thing, report it, and help bring a missing child home,” he added.

At the time of her disappearance, Melissa’s 22-year-old mother was newly separated and working as a waitress. She put an ad for childcare in the newspaper, and she got a response from the person who would turn out to be the kidnapper. The woman missed a scheduled interview, then called Melissa’s mother to ask for the job anyway. The would-be kidnapper explained that she had a nice yard and cared for other children in her home, reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Taking the woman at her word, Melissa’s mom hired the babysitter who came to pick Melissa up while a roommate was watching the toddler. According to the roommate, the kidnapper seemed nice but was dressed strangely for summer.

Jeff Highsmith, Melissa’s younger brother, told PEOPLE, "It was really odd, because it was the middle of summer, and the babysitter had long white gloves on, they had a scarf around their neck, and a scarf around their head, and was dressed in all white — like a nurse's uniform.”

Although he was born after she went missing and never met his sister, Jeff is determined to find her. He said, “I feel like I'm stuck with this. I have to find her.”

“We’re delighted about the tip. We hope it’s her, and we hope we can find her,” Sargeant Amelia Heise, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Texas Police Department, told NCMEC. The group has not yet been able to confirm whether the person seen in Charleston is, in fact, Melissa Highsmith.

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