Melissa Highsmith, who grew up as Melanie Miyoko, said the person who raised her "always sheltered me" and that they "were never close."
One of the oldest missing person cases in the U.S. has finally come to a happy conclusion. Melissa Highsmith was kidnapped from her Fort Worth, Texas, home on August 23, 1971, when she was just 21 months old. The person who abducted her was posing as a babysitter and Melissa—who is now 53 years old—was raised as Melanie Miyoko just 10 minutes from where she was abducted, reports PEOPLE. Speaking to the publication, she revealed that she had a difficult childhood.
THE SEARCH FOR MELISSA: It's been 51 years since Melissa Highsmith was last seen. Her family came to Daniel Island over the weekend to raise awareness about her story -- after a tip that she was seen in the area.https://t.co/SXw5pojc4v— Mel Orlins (@Mel_Orlins) October 24, 2022
"The whole time I was there, it was a bad childhood," she recalled. "I wasn't allowed to go outside and play, and she always sheltered me. And she said the reason she sheltered me was because I was born at home and that I had brain damage. I used to wonder, 'Why did she even have me if she didn't want me?'" The two "were never close," Melissa said, and she eventually ran away from "home" as a teenager.
On Thanksgiving Day, 51 years after Melissa Highsmith was kidnapped, she was finally reunited with her family who never stopped searching for her.— National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (@MissingKids) November 28, 2022
Read all about their incredible reunion here: https://t.co/UdGdIK3eQn pic.twitter.com/nSkZYGtafz
This month, a DNA match confirmed that Melissa was living in Fort Worth under the name Melanie Walden after getting married. She had no idea she'd been kidnapped as a toddler but "didn't feel loved as a child," she revealed, adding that she grew up in an "abusive" household. "I ran away at 15 years old. I went to the streets. I did what I had to do to get by... I worked the streets," she told WFAA.
Missing woman Melissa Highsmith, kidnapped as a baby in Texas, was reunited with her mom, Alta Apantenco, 51 years later after a 23andMe DNA test. 🥰— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) November 28, 2022
"I'm just so happy to see my daughter I didn't ever think I would ever see again," Alta Apantenco said. https://t.co/s8d8NULTV5 pic.twitter.com/LQsVX6Wbhe
When Melissa's biological father Jeffrie Highsmith reached out to her on Facebook, she initially thought it was a scam. "He was going through his DNA, and these three names popped up, and he didn't know who they were. But it has his DNA, and it had her DNA. It was two boys and a girl. He didn't understand, and he called his daughter Rebecca who had been working on it. Then my son reached out to her with a friend request, and she accepted it. And he was telling her all these things about Melissa being kidnapped, and she said, 'I'm sorry, I don't think I'm that person,'" said Alta Apantenco, Melissa's biological mother and Highsmith's ex-wife.
Mother & daughter reunited after 51 YEARS!— Malini Basu (@MaliniBasu_) November 28, 2022
Melissa was kidnapped when she was 21months old from their Ft Worth apt.
They both gave up on hope. Melissa: “I ran away at 15, & worked the streets.”
Family says 23andMe, DNA Genetic Testing matched them, living 20min away.@wfaa pic.twitter.com/Vsz9437pRf
Melissa told CBS News, "My father texted me on messenger and he told me, 'You know, I've been looking for my daughter for 51 years.' 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."
Highsmith revealed that the woman who raised Melissa admitted to some wrongdoing when confronted but not the kidnapping. "The mother confessed. I bought you for $500 on the street, she said in 1972. Melissa thinks she's the one that kidnapped her from the Spanish Gate apartment in Fort Worth, Texas," he said.
Now the reunited family just wants to make up for lost time and their reunion after 50 years was a truly emotional one. "My heart right now is just full and bursting with just so much emotion. I'm just really, really happy," said Melissa, adding that she plans on officially changing her name from Melanie back to Melissa.
"It's a Christmas miracle," she proclaimed. Meanwhile, her father said: "We give all the credit to God. We really believe it was—we're people of faith, and we believe it was through prayer."
Cover Image Source: YouTube|CBSDFW