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Woman Kidnapped 51 Years Ago And Just Reunited With Birth Family Says She Had 'Bad Childhood'

Melissa Highsmith, abducted at 21 months old from her Texas home, was recently found by her biological family. She says she never was close to the woman she believed to be her mother. 

By Caitlin Schunn
Missing Woman Reunited With Family 51 Years After Abduction

A Texas woman kidnapped as a baby 51 years ago and recently reunited with her biological family is opening up about her "bad childhood."

“Everything that I had known before the age of 15, before I left home, was a lie,” Melissa Highsmith told People magazine.

Highsmith shared that she was never close to the woman she believed to be her mother, and ran away at the age of 15.

"I wasn't allowed to go outside and play, or she always sheltered me,” she told People.  “And she said the reason she sheltered me was because I was born at home and that I had brain damage.  Why did she even have me if she didn’t want me?"

RELATED: ‘My Heart Right Now Is Just Full’: Missing Melissa Highsmith Is Reunited With Her Family 51 Years After She Was Kidnapped

Melissa, who grew up with the name Melanie Walden, disappeared back on August 23, 1971 in Fort Worth, Texas when she was 21 months old.  Her mother, Alta Apantenco, was working as a waitress, and placed an ad in a newspaper for a babysitter, according to a previous statement to Oxygen.com from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Apantenco hired a babysitter and told her roommate that she would be picking Melissa up while she was at work. The woman came, took Melissa, but never returned. It’s been one of the country’s longest missing persons cases, according to NCMEC.

Handouts of Melissa Highsmith from NCMEC

The family received new hope after NCMEC received an anonymous tip on Sept. 9 that Melissa was spotted on Daniel Island, near Charleston, South Carolina, but it never panned out.

But it sparked renewed interest in the case. Melissa's biological father, 73-year-old Jeffrie Highsmith, subsequently took a 23andMe DNA test and received his results this month, finding a connection between himself and one of Melissa's three children.

Melissa told People magazine she reached out to the woman who raised her on Facebook.

"That's when she said, 'I've been wanting to tell you something for many, many years,'" Melissa said. "She told me that somebody sold her me for $500 on the street. In my heart, I don't believe she bought me. I think she was the one that answered the ad and abducted me."

The Fort Worth Police Department said it may not be possible to press criminal charges against anyone in this case.

“The Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) is overjoyed to hear about how the Highsmith’s use of 23andMe led them to Melissa,” police said in a statement to Oxygen.com. “The Fort Worth Police Department will be conducting official DNA testing to confirm Melissa’s identity, and the department will provide an update once the official results have come in. The FWPD Major Case Unit will be working with the Highsmith family to continue the investigation into Melissa’s 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."

While waiting for official DNA testing, Alta Apantenco and Jeffrie Highsmith, Melissa’s biological parents, believe they’ve found their daughter, posting in a Facebook group “in the moment we saw her pictures, found out about her birthmark, and realized her 'birthday' is so close to our Melissa, WE KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was OUR GIRL. We are of course waiting for official confirmation for the naysayers in this world.”