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Melissa Highsmith, missing for 51 years, found in Fort Worth

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) — A woman who disappeared over five decades ago was found in Fort Worth this week, her family announced Sunday.

Melissa Highsmith went missing when she was kidnapped by a babysitter at her parents’ Fort Worth home in 1971. She was just 22 months old at the time of her disappearance.

Over the next 51 years, Highsmith’s family and police searched diligently for her, even following up on recent tips about possible sightings in North Carolina. 

In the end, however, Melissa was found living in Fort Worth under the name Melissa Walden.

Melissa and her family.

We Found Melissa via Facebook

The Highsmith family said that a DNA test ended up being the key that led them to Melissa. “Our finding Melissa was purely because of DNA, not because of any police or FBI involvement, podcast involvement, or even our family’s own private investigations or speculations,” Sharon Highsmith, Melissa’s sister, wrote on Facebook.

Melissa’s parents met her for the first time in over five decades on Saturday and undertook further DNA testing to officially confirm the match.

Melissa Highsmith, middle, with her mother and father in Fort Worth on Nov. 26, 2022.

We Found Melissa via Facebook

But, Sharon said, they “knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was our girl.” She noted that beyond just looking like Melissa, she had a similar birthmark and celebrated her birthday close to Melissa’s.

The family thanked their genealogist, Lisa Jo Schiele, for helping them understand the DNA results and for her guidance. 

The Highsmiths did note that Melissa had apparently lived in Fort Worth for most of her life. What happened to her kidnapper is not publicly known.