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Brother meets missing sister first time who was abducted 51 years ago

The brother of the lady kidnapped by a babysitter in 1971 mentioned ‘God answered my prayers’ after an emotional reunion with the sister he is been looking for most of his life.

Jeff Highsmith, 42, instructed DailyMail.com that he was solely six years previous when his dad and mom instructed him about his sister Melissa Highsmith’s abduction.

He mentioned on the time he was too younger to know, however round 13 he started to do his personal analysis and grew to become obsessed along with her disappearance.

‘It was a horrible tragedy and we by no means thought we might discover her and we simply moved on nevertheless it haunted me and consumed me,’ Jeff mentioned.

Melissa, now 53, was kidnapped from her mom’s Texas residence simply months earlier than she turned two. It wasn’t till Thanksgiving eve that Jeff’s prayers had been answered. After many years of useless ends, chilly leads and unanswered questions, the siblings met for the first time. 

They reunited at a Starbucks within the Forth Worth, Texas. Jeff says probably the most outstanding issues was Melissa didn’t even know she was abducted till now. 

Andy Kill, a spokesperson with 23andMe instructed DailyMail.com Highsmith’s case is ‘fairly uncommon.’

‘Normally we now have folks discover relations they did not know existed or have been separated from one another. But on this case, with an abduction and a missing individual discovered by 23andMe is fairly uncommon.’ 

Jeff – who lives in Keller, a metropolis in Tarrant County, Texas within the Dallas–Fort Worth space – has spent years looking for his sibling. Meanwhile, she was residing simply 10 miles away in Fort Worth, Texas below the identify Melanie Walden.

‘As a toddler it has been a lifelong dream to search out my sister. I all the time [thought about] how would I reply. The minute we noticed one another I began crying. We talked for 2 hours and it felt so snug,’ Jeff mentioned.

Jeff Highsmith, 42, met his sister Melissa, 53, (pictured collectively) for the first time on Thanksgiving. Jeff mentioned his sister’s disappearance ‘haunted and consumed’ him

Melissa and her mother Alta, who left her in the care of an unknown babysitter in Fort Worth in 1971

Melissa and her mom Alta, who left her within the care of an unknown babysitter in Fort Worth in 1971

Melissa hugging her dad, Jeffrie Highsmith for the first time in more than five decades

Melissa hugging her dad, Jeffrie Highsmith for the first time in additional than 5 many years 

Alta Apantenco (left) and Jeffrie Highsmith (right) are reunited with with their daughter Melissa  (center) after searching for her for 51 years

Alta Apantenco (left) and Jeffrie Highsmith (proper) are reunited with with their daughter Melissa  (heart) after looking for her for 51 years 

On Saturday Jeff launched Melissa to her lengthy lost dad and mom – Alta and Jeffrie Highsmith, who she hadn’t seen in additional than 5 many years

Sharon Highsmith wrote in a Facebook publish about her miracle sister that was discovered.

‘Our discovering Melissa was purely due to DNA, not due to any police or FBI involvement, podcast involvement, and even our household’s personal non-public investigations or speculations,’ she mentioned.

Jeff mentioned the second she met their dad and mom she instructed them she wished to vary her identify again to Melissa Highsmith.   

She additionally mentioned she wished to get remarried – she acquired married in April 2022 – so her ‘daddy can stroll her down the aisle,’ he mentioned.

Though Jeff says he and his household have little question that Melissa is their member of the family, she did take a second DNA take a look at to verify. She will present them with outcomes this Tuesday or Wednesday.

‘We know it’s Melissa,’ the brother mentioned. 

Jeff instructed the Daily Mail a lady by the identify of Patricia ‘Sugar’ Lewis, raised his sister, posing as her mom, after the kidnapping. Jeff mentioned that his sister assume Lewis was the individual who abducted her. Though, officers haven’t confirmed that she was the babysitter who kidnapped Melissa. 

Jeff says Lewis claims she was 19-years-old on the time she began caring for Melissa and theories swirled that she purchased her for $500 at a bar. 

‘I do not purchase the story. I feel she is mendacity,’ he mentioned. ‘She tried to defend herself and admitted to the crime on Facebook earlier than she took it down.’

Jeff says it’s not clear if Lewis or another person was the individual who abducted his sister 51 years ago. 

‘We will go to the police and say, ‘We discovered Melissa now it’s your job to search out the individual who abducted her.”

A undated photo of the young parents with baby Melissa before the abduction

A undated photograph of the younger dad and mom with child Melissa earlier than the kidnapping 

Jeff mentioned his sister was a younger widow with three kids – a daughter and two sons.

Her husband had muscular dystrophy and after he died social providers took her kids away from her, who had been solely infants on the time.

Their ages at the moment are 35, 37 and 38 years previous.

‘Life was powerful for her,’ he mentioned. ‘My new prayer is for my sister to get reunited along with her kids. We are hoping her kids may have compassion.’

Jeff mentioned his mom was solely 20 when his sister was abducted. He mentioned his father, Jeffrie, who was 19 years previous, left his mom and ran off with one other lady. He mentioned, his dad and mom finally reunited and acquired remarried. Melissa’s disappearance had introduced them collectively.  

After Melissa’s abduction, Jeff says their dad and mom went onto have extra kids – 4 in complete. His three different siblings – all sisters – all dwell in several components of the nation, Spain, Chicago and Forth Worth, Texas. 

In an emotional clip filmed on Thanksgiving, Melissa was seen hugging her mom and father for the first time in over 50 years – because the dad and mom embraced their beloved long-lost daughter.

Her household would have fun Melissa’s birthday every year with out her. During the final birthday they spent with out her, Melissa’s father instructed the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: ‘We are searching for her and nonetheless care.’

Later that day the household uncovered a lead that may unify them along with her simply weeks later, after many years of agony.

It was caused by a DNA take a look at and detective work by Lisa Jo Schiele, a scientific laboratory scientist and novice genealogist who inspired the household to strive a 23andMe DNA take a look at.

Melissa’s father submitted a DNA pattern to 23andMe, which returned a one hundred pc match with three folks. Those three folks had been the youngsters of Joe Brown and his spouse Melanie – one in every of which was Melissa.

‘It’s overwhelming and unimaginable to me,’ mentioned Sharon Highsmith, Melissa’s youthful sister.

‘For many years, my dad and mom have chased leads, hiring their very own labs and investigators and but, these DNA checks, which can be found to anybody, helped us discover our lost liked one.’

Melissa mentioned she can be altering her identify formally to mirror the one she was given at beginning. 

‘Now that we now have Melissa residence all of us are going to be collectively – the grandkids the nice grandkids, the nice nephews,’ he mentioned. ‘We have not all been collectively in 20 years.’ 

Melissa Highsmith (pictured) was kidnapped by a babysitter in 1971 at just 22-months-old

Melissa, whose name has been Melanie Brown, now has three children with Joe Brown

Melissa Highsmith (pictured) was kidnapped by a babysitter in 1971 at simply 22-months-old

Melissa went missing on August 23, 1971. Her mom Alta Apantenco, who had lately separated from her father, desperately wanted a babysitter to look after Melissa whereas she labored as a waitress. 

After placing up an commercial within the native newspaper Apantenco finally discovered somebody to do the job.

During a short cellphone name with a lady who recognized herself as Ruth Johnson, Apantenco was assured by the babysitter that her baby can be in excellent care.

The lady agreed to satisfy Apantenco on the restaurant she labored at, however by no means confirmed up. 

Then the potential babysitter referred to as up once more insisting she was proper for the job.

‘She mentioned, you understand, I actually love children and I’ve acquired this big yard and the children like to play on the market, and I was determined, I wanted a babysitter as a result of I was supporting myself,’ Apantenco told Fox4 in 2019.

She left Melissa within the care of a roommate with whom she was residing within the Spanish Gate Apartments on East Seminary Drive in Fort Worth, who then handed Melissa over to the unknown babysitter.

Melissa was by no means seen once more by anybody that knew her till earlier this month. 

‘My mother did the most effective she might with the restricted resources she had. She could not danger getting fired. So, she trusted the individual who mentioned they’d look after her baby,’ Sharon Highsmith, Melissa’s sister mentioned.

‘For 50 years, my mother has lived with the guilt of dropping Melissa. She’s additionally lived with neighborhood and nationwide accusations that she harm or killed her personal child. 

‘I’m so glad we now have Melissa again. I’m additionally grateful we now have vindication for my mother.’

Sharon now lives in Spain and though she has by no means met Melissa she is trying ahead to doing so this Christmas. 

Jeff mentioned that the Forth Worth Police Department, Tarrant County and the FBI had been his mom in connection together with his sister’s disappearance.

‘The police by no means took the investigation off of my mother. They all the time thought my mother had one thing to do with it and so they did not pursue anything.’

‘I did not perceive. There was no justification. It was irritating,’ he mentioned. ‘From what I was instructed, in 1971 it was a special time for ladies. It was a time when Roe vs. Wade and the ladies’s motion and girls weren’t handled as equal as males.’

Melissa's sibling Jeff Highsmith speaking after he had finally been reunited with his sister

Melissa’s sibling Jeff Highsmith talking after he had lastly been reunited together with his sister

Jeffrie Highsmith told the local Fort Worth newspaper earlier this month that he would continue looking for his daughter. He found her just weeks later

Jeffrie Highsmith instructed the native Fort Worth newspaper earlier this month that he would proceed searching for his daughter. He discovered her simply weeks later

Melissa (left) and another sibling Victoria Highsmith (right)

Melissa (left) and one other sibling Victoria Highsmith (proper)

Earlier this year in October the household had been result in Charleston, South Carolina to analyze a tip that Melissa had been seen there.  

She was recognized based mostly on a computer generated prediction of what Melissa would seem like fifty years on from her child pictures.

When the household acquired there they had been confronted with disappointment. That’s when the they stared fascinated by DNA checks and had been linked along with her kids.

‘We had espresso along with her on Thanksgiving evening, and after I checked out her, I simply knew. I knew,’ Jeff Highsmith mentioned, including later that he ‘could not take’ his eyes off her once they met as a result of she regarded ‘identical to’ his mom, he told Fox.

‘Our household has suffered by the hands of companies who have mismanaged this case,’ Sharon mentioned.

‘Right now, we simply need to get to know Melissa, welcome her to the household and make up for 50 years of lost time.’

Sharon, her siblings and their dad and mom inspired different households with missing family members to maintain on believing.

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