Texas Toddler Was Kidnapped 51 Years Ago by Babysitter. She Just Reunited with Her Family

Melissa Highsmith, 53, was stolen from her Fort Worth, Tex., home on Aug. 23, 1971 by a person posing as a babysitter, her family says

melissa highsmith
Melissa Highsmith. Photo: Highsmith family

A woman who was abducted from her home as a 21-month-old child has been reunited with her family more than 50 years after her kidnapping.

Melissa Highsmith, 53, was stolen from her Fort Worth, Tex., home on Aug. 23, 1971, by a person posing as a babysitter, her family says.

After decades apart, the Highsmith siblings tell PEOPLE a DNA match confirmed the news they were waiting for all these years: Melissa, who grew up as Melanie Miyoko, was in fact alive and the long-lost sister they had been searching for.

Melissa tells PEOPLE while the news floored her, it made sense, after a rocky upbringing by the person whom she suspects was her abductor.

"At first I wanted to be angry," she says. "And I was angry."

Melissa says she and the woman who raised her just 10 minutes from where she was abducted, "were never close."

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"The whole time I was there, it was a bad childhood," she says.

"I wasn't allowed to go outside and play, and she always sheltered me," Melissa recalls. "And she said the reason she sheltered me was because I was born at home and that I had brain damage."

"I used to wonder, 'Why did she even have me if she didn't want me?'"

Melissa says she ran away as a teen.

As of a few days ago, she says she is no longer communicating with the woman who claimed to be her mother.

melissa highsmith
Alta Apantenco, Melissa, and Jeffrie Highsmith. Highsmith family

While the Highsmiths say they never gave up hope on finding Melissa, her mom Alta Apantenco, 73, admits the 51-year search was discouraging.

"My family believed that she was still alive, and I wanted to believe it, but I had been disappointed so many times that I just told them, 'Leave me out of it,'" Alta tells PEOPLE. "I said, 'You go ahead, and you try to find Melissa, but please leave me out of it because I don't want to get involved.' I wanted to lay it to rest, but they didn't want to."

And their perseverance paid off. After the DNA match confirmed Melissa was their sister, Rebecca, 48; Victoria, 47; Sharon, 45; and Jeff, 42, tracked her down through Facebook and they agreed to meet.

So far, Melissa has been reunited with her mom and dad Jeffrie Highsmith, 72, along with siblings Victoria and Jeff. Rebecca and Sharon plan to spend time with Melissa in Fort Worth around Christmas.

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Melissa and Jeffrie Highsmith. Highsmith family

"I'm looking forward to getting to meet everyone," Melissa says. "It's going to be something to get used to actually having so much family when I didn't have any."

The family says they plan to reach out to Fort Worth police to discuss whether the kidnapper can somehow be prosecuted, though they were reportedly told by authorities that the statute of limitations in Texas ran out 48 years ago.

Despite this, the years that have passed and the time spent desperately searching for Melissa, the Highsmiths credit their faith for helping track her down.

"We give all the credit to God. We really believe it was — we're people of faith, and we believe it was through prayer," Jeff says.

"God is an amazing God, and he can do anything," adds Alta. "He's a way maker, a miracle worker, a promise keeper, a light in the darkness. That's my God."

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