Local Woman Reclaims Name 50 Years After Kidnapping

Silhouette of woman's head with wavy hair, back light. | Image by Mike Dotta, Shutterstock

A woman kidnapped 50 years ago has reclaimed her original name.

53-year-old Melissa Highsmith was only 22 months old when she was kidnapped from her childhood home in Fort Worth by her babysitter in 1971.

Melissa appeared in a court alongside her original parents last week and officially reclaimed her birth name. Melissa told NBC 5 DFW that reclaiming her name was a chance for a fresh start.

“It’s like God has given me a second chance at life,” said Highsmith, according to NBC 5. “It’s like I’m starting over.”

Highsmith’s parents were also excited to see her name changed back.

“I feel fantastic getting her name back to where it should’ve been after all these years,” said Jeffrie Highsmith, Melissa’s father.

Melissa’s family had searched for her ever since she was kidnapped, with her brother Jeff Highsmith establishing a Facebook page called “Finding Melissa” in 2018 to document the family’s efforts to find her, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

The family eventually found Melissa in 2022, discovering that she had been residing in Fort Worth ever since the kidnapping under an entirely different name. Highsmith had been living under the name Melanie Walden for all these years, according to NBC 5.

The family had confirmed her identity through their investigations via DNA testing. Fort Worth police officially confirmed that “Melanie” was Melissa on May 5.

Shane Gray, the family’s pastor, said that he and others have been celebrating Melissa’s return to her family.

“In the darkest nights of Melissa’s life, she was not alone. In the most hopeless moments of the Highsmith’s search for their daughter, there was hope,” said Gray after the courthouse proceedings, according to NBC 5.

Highsmith also plans to redo her marriage ceremony with her original name so that her biological father can walk her down the aisle. She also plans to get a new passport so she can visit another family member in Spain.

“I just know God was with me watching over me. It gives me goosebumps. He heard their prayers and everything,” Melissa told NBC 5. “It’s just indescribable. I’m on top of the world.”

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