Their daughter was kidnapped 51 years ago. Decades later, they finally found her.

A Texas family has reunited with their daughter whom they say was kidnapped 51 years ago – and she was in the same city they live in.

Jeffrie Highsmith and Alta Apantenco were living in Fort Worth when their 22-month-old child, Melissa Highsmith, was abducted in August 1971 by a babysitter, according to a news release from the family. For decades, the family did not know what happened to their daughter but followed any possible lead they could, celebrating birthday parties each year while hoping to see their child again.

The breakthrough in the case happened when the family submitted a DNA case on 23andme, the genetic analysis company that connects people to relatives based on DNA results, the family said. After getting their results, the family worked with an amateur genealogist to examine the findings, then combed through public records. The family discovered they were related to the children of a woman in Fort Worth named Melanie, according to the Fort-Worth Star Telegram.

Melissa Highsmith with her mother, Alta Apantenco, and her father, Jeffrie Highsmith.
Melissa Highsmith with her mother, Alta Apantenco, and her father, Jeffrie Highsmith.

"We saw her pictures, found out about her birthmark, and realized her 'birthday' is so close to our Melissa," Sharon Highsmith, Jeffrie Highsmith and Alta Apantenco's daughter, wrote in a Facebook post on a page dedicated to finding Melissa. "WE KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was OUR GIRL."


Melissa Highsmith saw her parents on Saturday for the first time in more than 50 years, celebrating the end of the family's search.

"We have worked with law enforcement and we've tried to do our own private family investigations. For decades, my parents have chased leads, hiring their own labs and investigators. And yet, these DNA tests, which are available to anyone, helped us find our lost loved one," Sharon Highsmith said in a statement. "It's overwhelming and incredible to me."

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Melissa Highsmith hugs her mother after reuniting with her.
Melissa Highsmith hugs her mother after reuniting with her.

The Forth Worth Police Department said in a statement to USA TODAY that it was "overjoyed" to hear the news. It said it would conduct an official DNA test to confirm Melissa Highsmith's identity and would be working with the family to investigate her disappearance.

"Even though the criminal statute of limitations expired 20 years after Melissa’s 18th birthday, the Fort Worth Police Department is committed to completing this investigation to uncover all of the available information concerning Melissa’s abduction that occurred 51 years ago," the department said.

Melissa Highsmith told CBS News Dallas-Fort Worth she learned about her kidnapping after her father messaged her on Facebook after the 23andme results. She said her caretaker when she was growing up, who was not identified, knew of her actual identity, and she plans to change her name to Melissa. ??

"It's overwhelming, but at the same time it's the most wonderful feeling in the world," she said.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas parents reunite with daughter who was kidnapped 51 years ago