When American Melanie Walden, 53, received a message on Facebook earlier this month, it turned her life upside down.
The letter claimed Melanie Walden wasn’t her real name – and that it was, in fact, Melissa Highsmith, who was kidnapped when she was just one year old in 1971 and has been missing without trace ever since.
“It can’t be me”Melanie replied.
But the letter was sent by two women and a man who has evidence to support their claims. Sharon Highsmith and Rebecca Del Bosque said they were Melanie’s sisters, and Jeffrey Highsmith said he was her father.
I looked for Melissa for 51 years
The family said they have not stopped searching for Melissa since she disappeared 51 years ago.
– He broke our hearts. It was very stressful emotionally for our family, says Rebecca Del Bosque.
The breakthrough came when DNA samples in a database showed that Jeffrey Highsmith had an unknown grandson, one of Melanie’s sons.
At first Melanie thought it was all an attempt to hurt her, but she finally asked the woman she thought was her mother if the claim was true. Melanie learns that the woman paid $500 to get Melanie in 1972.
“I didn’t think I’d see her again.”
This weekend, Melanie reunited with her real parents, Alta Abantenko and Jeffrey Highsmith, in Fort Worth.
– It was very emotional. Melanie, who experienced domestic abuse growing up, says her first thought was, “I finally have a mom and a dad who wants me and loves me.”
Melanie says she is changing her name to Melissa Highsmith.
– I could hardly believe it was true. I never thought I’d see her again, says Alta Abanenko.
“I feel like I got a second chance at life.”
Police said in a written comment that they were “thrilled” that Melanie had been reunited with her biological parents, but that they would continue to investigate her kidnapping case.
– Her life is not what she thought. What Melissa wants to do now is enjoy being reunited with the family that she loves, the family that hasn’t stopped looking and found her, says Sharon Highsmith.
Rebecca Del Bosque agrees with her sister and says the family has “never given up hope.”
“I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life,” says Melanie — or rather, Melissa.
“Falls down a lot. Internet fanatic. Proud analyst. Creator. Wannabe music lover. Introvert. Tv aficionado.”