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Here’s a Christmas miracle– After years of searching, a Fort Worth family has found their long-lost daughter and sister 51 years after she was kidnapped.

Melissa Highsmith went missing when she was kidnapped by a babysitter at her parents’ Fort Worth home in 1971 at just 22 months old at the time of her disappearance.

More than 50 years later, Highsmith’s family tracked their missing loved one down with a 23andMe DNA test, “without help from law enforcement or other outside involvement.”

Melissa Highsmith’s Disappearance

In August 1971, Melissa’s mother Alta Apantenco was working as a waitress and in need of a babysitter so she put an advertisement in the newspaper. Apantenco hired a woman who expressed interest in the job without meeting her in person.

While Apatenco was at work, her roommate handed Melissa over to the babysitter, who allegedly abducted her and never returned.

According to the family, Apantenco faced years of accusations from law enforcement that she had possibly killed her missing daughter and hidden the crime.

Loved ones looked for Melissa for years, so much that they grew tired but never gave up, eventually making a Facebook page named “Finding Melissa.”

Fort Worth Woman Reunited With Family 51 Years After Kidnapping

Victoria Highsmith

(Courtesy, Victoria Highsmith)

The Highsmith family tracked Melissa down using Ancestry and 23andMe after a recommendation from a genealogist. The family says their mother was hesitant since she has done DNA tests with six different women throughout the years and they all came back negative.

“Every time my mother got her hopes up. After 51 years, she didn’t want to submit another DNA test. She was tired and she was hurt and guilty from caring this all these years,” said Victoria. “I’m thankful that we go her to agree to submit her DNA… It is because of that and my dad submitting that we were able to find Melissa.”

Apparently, the family didn’t find her DNA through Melissa, but instead through her children.

“We didn’t find her DNA through her, we found it from her children… my mother and father submitted DNA…. within three weeks we found my sister it was like boom boom boom we found her,” said Melissa’s sister Victoria Highsmith.

Victoria also says she is so happy that her mother can now feel vindicated after being accused by police when she had nothing to do with Melissa’s disappearance.

“She has carried this pain and this guilt for 51 years and I have watched her cry for 3 days of joy. I have never seen my mother so happy,” said Victoria Highsmith.

Reuniting With Melissa Highsmith

Melissa has been living in Fort Worth for most of her life and never knew she had been kidnapped, her family wrote in posts on a Facebook page named “WE FOUND MELISSA!!!”

On Saturday, during a celebration at a church in Fort Worth, Melissa reunited with her mother, her father and two of her four siblings, sharing tears, hugs and smiles.

Fort Worth Woman Reunited With Family 51 Years After Kidnapping

Victoria Highsmith

Melissa Highsmith was reunited with her parents, Alta Apantenco and Jeffrie Highsmith, 51 years after she was kidnapped in Fort Worth, Texas. (Courtesy, Victoria Highsmith)

“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,” said Victoria. “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.”

Melissa says she didn’t have a good life and she ran away at the age of 15. She also confirms that she will be changing her name from Melanie and back to her birth name.

Another sister– Sharon Highsmith, who lives in Spain and plans to meet Melissa this Christmas – described how her relatives had turned to law enforcement officials for assistance. But it was their own private search for Melissa, which included the 23andMe test, that paid off.

NBC 5 reached out to Fort Worth police for an update on the kidnapping case or confirmation Melissa had been found, but we’re still waiting for an answer.

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