A woman kidnapped as a child meets her real parents after 51 years

The incredible story centered around the disappearance of Melissa Highsmith concluded in South Carolina on Saturday, according to a report from Charleston television news station WCIV, as well as a statement from her family.

Highsmith was one year old when her mother, Alta Apatenko, placed an ad in a Fort Worth, Texas, newspaper in 1971 looking for a nanny, reports The Guardian.

The mother was raising her daughter alone, so she hired a woman who showed interest in the job, but whom she had never met, to take care of the little girl. Apatenko’s roommate gave Melissa to a nanny, who did not return the child.

Highsmith’s relatives reported her missing to the police and have never forgotten her since. Most recently, a family on Facebook asked for help finding a missing relative.

On September 1, the Highsmith family received an anonymous tip that the woman was in Charleston. Using DNA text from 23andMe, the family confirmed that it was indeed Melissa who went missing 51 years ago. Melissa reunited with her mother, father, two brothers and two sisters during a celebration at a church in Fort Worth on Saturday.

“I couldn’t stop crying,” Sister Victoria Garner said in a statement. “I was overjoyed. I’m still in a haze trying to figure out the fact that we found it.”

The other sister, Sharon Highsmith, who lives in Spain and plans to meet Melissa at Christmas, told how her relatives have turned to law enforcement for help, but their private searches have been successful.

Sharon said her family reached out to clinical laboratory scientist Lisa Jo Shiel, who helped interpret the DNA results and obtain publicly available data to locate Melissa.

“Our family has suffered from the agencies mishandling this case,” said Sharon Highsmith. “Right now we just want to get to know Melissa, welcome her to the family and make up for lost time.”

Sharon said she was especially happy for her mother, who was accused of killing her son and covering up the crime after Melissa’s disappearance.

“My mother did the best she could with the limited resources she had. She couldn’t risk getting fired, so she trusted the man who she said would take care of her son,” Sharon said in a statement.

In their message, the family wanted to convey a simple message to all those looking for their missing loved ones: “Never give up, follow every lead.”

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