Women Reunited With Family After 51 Years


Courtesy of the Highsmith Family

Mrs.Walden smiles with her family after not seeing each other for half a century. Walden said her childhood was abusive and she had to run away and live on the streets at the age of 15. She is no longer in contact with the woman she thought was her biological mother.

Christmas miracles come in all different ways, but for the Highsmith family in Fort Worth, Texas, this year’s present was the best one they could wish for. The Highsmith family has been waiting 51 years for this miracle. Melissa Highsmith, now 53, has been living her life without her family. Melissa’s case was one of the oldest missing person cases in the country.

Single mother, Alta Apantenco is Melissa’s biological mother. Alta asked for help in an advertisement needing a babysitter while she worked at her job in 1971, someone had applied. Apantenco did not meet the alleged babysitter, but Apantenco’s roommate gave Melissa over to the babysitter’s care.

Melissa Highsmith was with a trusted babysitter on August 23, 1971, at the age of 22 months old. The “abductor” did not return Melissa. The Highsmith family reported her missing to the police and had no luck. Her family later organized a Facebook page entitled, “Finding Melissa Highsmith” to possibly get the right person’s eye. 

“I did get a notification from the news app about a girl who was missing for half a century, and I had to read more about it,” senior Maura McDonald said. “When I started reading about Melanie, I realized she never knew she was kidnapped until her real family reached out to her.”

In September 2022, the Highsmith family received an anonymous tip that a sighting of Melissa was possibly near Charleston, South Carolina. The family traveled from Texas to Charleston in October to get more tips from locals but they got nowhere. Melissa was only living 20 minutes away from her whole childhood neighborhood and the Highsmith family had no idea.

“You truly don’t know what goes on in this world until it’s brought to your attention,” senior Livia Hable said.”She must have been perplexed about not knowing her true identity or any whereabouts of her own family,” 

“Although in the moment we saw her pictures, found out about her birthmark, and realized her birthday is so close to our Melissa, WE KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was OUR GIRL,” the family added in a Facebook post.

After the Highsmith family found Melissa they shared the news in a post on their Facebook page named “WE FOUND MELISSA”

Melissa was reunited with her mom, dad, and siblings Victoria and Jeff. Melissa did not meet her two other siblings, Rebecca and Sharon, but the family plans to spend time around Christmas together in Fort Worth.

Melissa Highsmith, whose name was changed to Melanie Walden, had no idea of her childhood and was stunned when she heard the whole story. Now, Melanie wants to change her name back to the name her family gave her and remarry her husband so the whole family can be present for her special day.

“Meeting her for the first time, it’s hard to put into words, it’s a dream come true,” said brother Jeff Highsmith.