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Family Steps Up Search For Sister Kidnapped As Baby More Than 50 Years And After Possible Sighting In S.C.

The family of Melissa Highsmith headed to Daniel Island in South Carolina after a tip that she was recently spotted there. Highsmith was taken by a purported babysitter from her Texas home in 1971.

By Constance Johnson
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The family of a Texas toddler abducted more than 50 years ago is stepping up the search for her after a tip recently surfaced that she was spotted near Charleston, South Carolina.  

As previously reported by Oxygen.com, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received an anonymous tip on September 9 that Melissa Highsmith, who would now be 52, was seen on Daniel Island. The center released an age-progressed photo of what Melissa would look like today. She turns 53 on November 6.

It’s one of the nation’s oldest missing cases according to NCMEC.

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Jeff Highsmith and his father were on Daniel Island over the weekend. They handed out flyers and held a vigil to raise awareness about the case.

“We’re going to have to go, whether it’s door to door, business to business and try to find our sister,” Highsmith told WCSC-TV. “I feel like it’s a 50/50 shot, my sister is either in Charleston, or she’s not. I’ll take the optimist’s point of view. So, if my sister is here, we’re going to do everything we can and fight like hell to try to find her.”

The family believes that Melissa is probably unaware that she was abducted.

Handouts of Melissa Highsmith from NCMEC

“We just want to say that you have family that loves you and that we’ve never stopped looking,” her brother said, according to WCSC. “We just want to be part of your life and just want to see your children, your grandchildren.”

Melissa’s father, also named Jeff Highsmith, implored anyone with information to come forward, the station reported.

“I believe that [some] person knows more than they said,” the father said, according to WCSC. “They might have intimate knowledge of the original kidnapping, know about who took her or maybe know exactly where she’s at. If you’re out there and you’re listening, please just send an anonymous note to let us know where she’s at.”

Volunteers helped hand out flyers and attended a vigil for Melissa on Sunday.

"We hope that she is here on Daniel Island and tonight we're getting a group together to pray that she's finally returned to her family reunited and that her parents who are now in their 70s can get some peace knowing that she's safe and sound," Melissa Engdahl, a family volunteer, told WCIV-TV.

Highsmith vanished on August 23, 1971, in Fort Worth, Texas. She was abducted by someone wearing white gloves and claiming to be a babysitter.

Her then-22-year-old mother, Alta Highsmith, had recently moved to Fort Worth and was working as a waitress. She placed an ad in a newspaper for a babysitter, according to a release from NCMEC.

A woman responded to the ad and agreed to meet Melissa’s mom at her job but failed to show up. The babysitter reached out again. She told Melissa’s mother that she really wanted the job, cared for other children, and had a nice big yard.

Highsmith hired the 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.

She has been missing ever since, and her family has worked diligently over the years searching for her. Her younger brother, Jeff, and his wife Rachel, created a Facebook page, “Finding Melissa Highsmith.” They also hired a private investigator.

“I believe we are going to find her,” Jeff said in a previously released statement from  NCMEC. “It is my faith that sustains us and my faith that makes me think she is alive and will be brought back to us.”

He said that at least three women have come forward over the years believing they were Melissa, but were ruled out by DNA testing, according to NCMEC.

Anyone who believes they may have spotted Melissa should call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-THE-LOST. A $20,000 reward is being offered.