A family reunited with their lost daughter after 51 years. They want others in the same position to have hope.

A family reunited with their lost daughter after 51 years. They want others in the same position to have hope.
  • The family of a woman who was missing for 51 years wants to give hope to those with lost loved ones.

  • Sharon Highsmith, the sister of the woman, Melissa Highsmith, told them to "chase every lead."

  • Sharon Highsmith said the family wants to "make up for 50 years of lost time."

A family who found their loved one 51 years after her kidnapping wants relatives of other missing people to keep having faith.

In a press release, Sharon Highsmith, whose 53-year-old sister, Melissa, met other members of her family over the Thanksgiving weekend, encouraged others to "never give up hope" and to "chase every lead."

Melissa Highsmith was abducted in 1971 when she was 22 months old, the family, of Fort Worth, Texas, said. They identified the kidnapper as a babysitter whom her mom, Alta Apantenco, had hired.

They said Highsmith was found through the results of an at-home DNA test.

The family held a birthday party for their missing loved one every year

Highsmith had been the focus of a search that lasted more than four decades. Her family didn't see her again until this past weekend.

"I couldn't stop crying," Highsmith's sister Victoria Garner said in a Facebook post quoted in the press release. She added, "I was overjoyed and I'm still walking around in a fog trying to comprehend that my sister is right in front of me and that we found her."

The family said they found a match with Highsmith via an at-home DNA test on November 6, the day they held a birthday party in her honor, as they'd done every year since she went missing.

A missing bulletin released in 1971 showing kidnap survivor, Melissa Highsmith, as a toddler
Melissa Highsmith was snatched as a toddler in 1971.Highsmith family

Reports about Highsmith's finding said her father, Jeffrie Highsmith, recently sent a sample of his DNA to 23andMe, which found a match with three people, one of whom was Melissa Highsmith.

"It's overwhelming and incredible to me," Sharon Highsmith, 45, said in the press release. "We have worked with law enforcement and we've tried to do our own private family investigations."

She added: "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."

The family credited Lisa Jo Schiele, a clinical laboratory scientist and amateur genealogist, who the release said "helped the family interpret the DNA results" and "mined" public records.

"This is not the hardest genealogy puzzle I've ever solved," Schiele was quoted as saying. "I hope what I do gives other families the confidence to do the same."

Mother and daughter Alta Apantenco and Melissa Highsmith embrace after spending 51 years apart.
Apantenco and Highsmith.Highsmith family

Sharon Highsmith said in the press release that for 50 years her mom had "lived with the guilt of losing Melissa."

The release said Apantenco, a single mom "fearful of losing her job," hired the babysitter without meeting first.

"My mom did the best she could with the limited resources she had," Sharon Highsmith said.

She added that her mother had dealt with "community and nationwide accusations that she hurt or killed her own baby."

Melissa Highsmith's family wants to get to know her after 51 years apart

Sharon Highsmith, who lives in Spain and expects to meet her sister at Christmas, said she was "so glad we have Melissa back" and "grateful we have vindication for my mom."

She also criticized the authorities who were responsible for the search. "Our family has suffered at the hands of agencies who have mismanaged this case," she said in the press release.

But she added that "right now we just want to get to know Melissa, welcome her to the family, and make up for 50 years of lost time."

Read the original article on Insider