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Melissa Highsmith, Fort Worth woman abducted as a baby, officially changes her name back

Melissa Highsmith — a Fort Worth woman who was kidnapped as a baby in 1971 and reunited with her family in November 2022 — has officially changed her name back to her birth name, her family announced Wednesday. She used to go by Melanie Walden and Melanie Brown before her family found her.

“My breathtaking wife and an amazing woman has been officially given her identity back as Melissa Highsmith,” wrote John Brown, Melissa’s husband, in a Facebook post Wednesday. “She is an inspiration to all and a beacon of Hope for many.”

Melissa was 21 months old when she was abducted from her Fort Worth home by a babysitter in 1971, according to her family.

She was missing for 51 years.

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Melissa’s father, Jeffrie Highsmith, submitted his DNA to 23andMe, a website customers can use to find relatives and create a family tree. The database found a match to three grandchildren, who are the children of Melissa, her husband wrote in a previous Facebook post in November. A DNA test was done and confirmed she is Melissa Highsmith, he wrote.

The Fort Worth Police Department also recently confirmed Melissa’s DNA.

“My whole life was a lie,” Melissa told the Star-Telegram at a rally for cold cases in Fort Worth.

She said that she didn’t have a happy childhood. She described her home life as abusive and said she ran away at 15 years old and “worked the streets” to survive. For 17 years after running away from home, Melissa didn’t have a relationship with the people who raised her and was not in contact with them, she told the Star-Telegram. Fort Worth police are still investigating her disappearance and what happened to the person who abducted her.

Melissa’s parents, siblings, members from her church — Hope Works Church — and other family members and loved ones accompanied her at the Tarrant County Courthouse on Wednesday to officially change her name.

Melissa Highsmith was accompanied by family including her father, Jeffrie Highsmith (far left), and her mother, Alta Apantenco (far right), as she officially changed her name back on Wednesday, May 17.
Melissa Highsmith was accompanied by family including her father, Jeffrie Highsmith (far left), and her mother, Alta Apantenco (far right), as she officially changed her name back on Wednesday, May 17.

“We want to thank the Lord for this great work that he has done by reuniting Melissa Highsmith back to The Highsmith Family,” John Brown wrote.

Melissa and John plan to renew their wedding vows under her new name so her father can walk her down the aisle.

Over the weekend, Melissa and her mother, Alta Apantenco, spent their first Mother’s Day together since their reunion. “Today, our family is so grateful that Mom has all five of her children to wish her a happy Mother’s Day,” Melissa’s sister Sharon Highsmith wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. “Something she’s been waiting for for 51 years!!