Melissa Highsmith disappeared in 1971. But after 51 years, she has been reunited with her family thanks to a DNA test by 23andMe.
“We are beyond thrilled to announce that WE FOUND MELISSA,” biological sister Sharon Rose Highsmith wrote in a post on a Facebook group page related to the case.
“There are so many details we want to share, but for now we just want to say that we tracked down a DNA match from the 23 & Me family that led us to her,” she added.
According to the family, Melissa Highsmith was kidnapped while babysitting at her home in Texas when she was just 22 months old. The person who raised Melissa didn’t tell her how she turned out, This is reported by CBS News.
“The person who raised me, I asked her, ‘Is there something you need to tell me?’ and it was confirmed that she knew I was baby Melissa, so that just made it real,” Melissa told the outlet.
“The joy is felt by all family members and we invite you to celebrate and rejoice with us,” the family’s statement read.
The search for Melissa had been going on for 50 years, the family told CBS, but a recent tip — which turned out to be a dud — that she had been seen in North Carolina helped restart the search.
However, the family noted in their Facebook statement that the entire story was not entirely public. (Since the discovery, the family has been active on a public Facebook page called Find Melissawhich they started in 2018.)
“There are so many details we would like to share,” their statement read, but she added that they would hold off on that for now.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I thought I would never see her again,” said Melissa’s mother, Atla Apantencl.
The Highsmith family credited the DNA testing company, 23andMe, and not the true crime community, the police, or other similar efforts.
“Our find Melissa was purely because of DNA, not because of any police/FBI involvement, podcast involvement or even our family’s private investigations or speculation. DNA WINS THIS SEARCH,” added Rose Highsmith in the Facebook page after.
The Fort Worth Police Department said in a statement that although the statute of limitations has expired, they will continue to investigate the case. They also said the department will conduct official DNA testing.
The department is “delighted to learn how the Highsmith’s use of 23andme led them to Melissa,” the statement said.
The person who kidnapped Melissa is not named. It is not clear who exactly did the DNA test on Melissa and her relatives.
Founded in 2006 by Anne Wojcicki, Linda Avey and Paul Cusenza. the company offers at-home saliva collection and tests that analyze your DNA for health and heritage data. You can also choose to share your information and find other people you are related to.
The Company – and similar ventures such as Ancestry.com — have led to other dramatic discoveries, such as veteran memoirist Dani Shapiro to discover her biological father was not the man who raised her, but rather someone who donated sperm to an untrustworthy fertility clinic.
But these DNA analysis companies have also had to deal with criticism for sharing genetic data with other companies and law enforcement. 23andMe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sharon Highsmith added in a press release that she hopes the story inspires other people looking for missing relatives.
“Never give up hope,” she said. “Chase every trail.”