When the Fb message that challenged her whole life’s story arrived this month, Melanie Walden refused to consider it. “There’s no manner that might be me,” she informed the individuals who despatched it.

However the message, from two ladies who mentioned they have been her sisters and a person who mentioned he was her father, insisted that she had been kidnapped as a 1-year-old in 1971 and that that they had spent 5 a long time, practically their whole lives, looking for her. They usually had DNA proof.


Walden, 53, who cleans homes and her native church, was settled in her life in Fort Value, Texas, after a number of marriages and three kids. “I couldn’t consider such a factor,” she mentioned in an interview Tuesday.

The ladies, Sharon Highsmith and Rebecca Del Bosque, and the person, Jeffrie Highsmith, informed Walden that her actual title was Melissa Highsmith — “Child Melissa” within the lacking posters — and that she had been taken away by a girl posing as a babysitter in Fort Value all these years in the past.

After a long time of fruitless investigations, false leads and disappointments, the household was notified Nov. 6 a few DNA match that confirmed Jeffrie Highsmith had a grandchild he didn’t find out about. It was certainly one of Walden’s kids. The match was primarily based on samples submitted to 23andMe, a genetic testing firm, in accordance with the Nationwide Heart for Lacking and Exploited Youngsters.

Sharon Highsmith, 45, mentioned Monday that Walden informed them that she thought they have been making an attempt to rip-off her. She mentioned she would pray for them. However then Walden began studying articles in regards to the Highsmith household. The woman within the lacking poster had a birthmark on her again. So did Walden. Her husband studied the newborn photographs on the household’s Facebook web page. Quickly she had a change of coronary heart, she mentioned.

 A photograph through the Highsmith household of Melissa Highsmith, proper, and her mom, Alta Apantenco, embrace in Fort Value, Texas. (through The New York Instances)

Walden mentioned she then requested the girl who had raised her — the girl she thought was her mom — about her actual identification. Sure, she was informed, she had paid $500 for her in 1972. She was Child Melissa, the girl mentioned.

Additional DNA testing confirmed it. At a church in Fort Value on Saturday, Walden met along with her father, Jeffrie Highsmith, and her mom, Alta Apantenco, 73, in a tearful reunion crammed with hugs and prayer. They gave interviews to an area TV station, and the story was picked up by information retailers all over the world.

“It was very emotional,” Walden mentioned in an interview. “One of many first issues that got here to my thoughts was, ‘I lastly have a mom and a father that need me, and so they love me. I lastly have folks that love me.’ ”

“I couldn’t consider it,” Apantenco informed CBS 11 of Fort Value. “I believed I'd by no means see her once more.”

Walden mentioned that she could be altering her title again to Melissa Highsmith and even up to date her Fb web page to replicate that.

It was unclear who kidnapped Child Melissa or how the girl who raised her grew to become her guardian. Walden wouldn't title her.

Below the title Melanie Miyoko, she grew up and attended Southwest Excessive Faculty in Fort Value, the place she was a member of the Class of 1989, in accordance with the yearbook.

She additionally confronted some struggles. She mentioned she ran away from her new household when she was 15.

“I had an abusive childhood,” she mentioned. “I used to be searching for a greater life.”

Within the Nineties, when she was in her 20s and often known as Melanie Gaige, a married title, she was arrested no less than 4 instances and charged with misdemeanors associated to prostitution, in accordance with Texas prison information. She had no schooling or expertise, she mentioned, including, “I did the one factor that I might do. I labored the streets.”

Throughout these years, she gave beginning to a few kids. Considered one of her sisters mentioned that each one three had been put up for adoption. Walden mentioned she later turned her life round, grew to become a non secular individual and labored fast-food jobs and cleansing church buildings.

Many questions stay in regards to the abduction itself. The Highsmith household continues to be urgent for a police investigation.

In an announcement Monday, the Fort Value Police Division mentioned that it was “overjoyed” that the household had discovered Melissa, however the division didn't reply to questions in regards to the abductor. It mentioned that it might proceed to analyze the case however mentioned that the prison statute of limitations expired in 2007.

The kidnapping occurred Aug. 23, 1971, in accordance with the Nationwide Heart for Lacking and Exploited Youngsters. Apantenco, who was 22 and dealing as a server, wanted somebody to look at her daughter. After inserting a babysitter’s advert within the newspaper, Apantenco organized for the girl to select up Melissa, who was 21 months previous, from her roommate whereas she was at work, the middle mentioned. Apantenco by no means met the girl. When she didn't return with Child Melissa, Apantenco referred to as police.

Child Melissa was final seen carrying a pink costume with white sandals, in accordance with the Nationwide Lacking and Unidentified Individuals System. She had hazel-brown eyes and brown hair, and weighed 26 kilos, in accordance with the database.

Police investigations proved futile. The household mentioned Apantenco even confronted accusations that she had damage or killed the kid herself. Because the years handed, the Highsmiths took issues into their very own fingers.

Sharon Highsmith and Del Bosque, 48, bear in mind their mother and father chasing leads in Texas even after their household moved to Illinois within the late Seventies.

Each time they did they'd come again disillusioned,” Del Bosque, mentioned Monday. “It was actually heartbreaking for me and for our household. It was very emotionally draining.”

Jeff Highsmith, who was born after his sister was kidnapped, and his spouse employed a personal investigator to seek for leads on Melissa’s whereabouts. In addition they created a Fb group, “Assist discover Melissa Highsmith,” to search for any ideas. (The group, which has grown to greater than 6,500 members over time, has been renamed “We Discovered Melissa!!!”)

Through the years, three ladies who believed they is perhaps Melissa had reached out to Jeff Highsmith, however DNA exams got here again exhibiting they weren't her, the middle mentioned.

“We simply by no means gave up the hope,” Del Bosque mentioned. “We simply actually united as a household to maintain pushing.”

The breakthrough got here this yr, with the daddy’s DNA match with the unknown grandchild. Lisa Jo Schiele, a medical laboratory scientist and an beginner genealogist, mentioned Tuesday that she was requested by the household this month to reply the query, “Is that this what we predict it's?”

Schiele pored by means of the information and contacted a genetic relative of Walden’s on Ancestry.com who gave her sufficient info to dig by means of public information to establish her in about two hours. That’s when the household despatched the Fb message.

Whereas Walden has now met her beginning mother and father, her brother and one other sister, Victoria Garner, she has but to fulfill Del Bosque, of Chicago, or Highsmith, who lives in Madrid. They plan to fulfill at Christmas in Fort Value.

“Her life wasn’t what she thought it was,” Sharon Highsmith mentioned of her rediscovered sister. “What Melissa desires proper now's to get pleasure from being reunited with a household that loves her, a household that by no means stopped in search of her and a household that has discovered her.”


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