In a courtroom in Tarrant County, Texas, last Wednesday, Melissa Highsmith, formerly known as Melanie Walden, stood alongside her biological parents as she officially changed both her first and last names. The emotional moment was captured in a video shared by NBC-DFW reporter Alanna Quillen, showing the courtroom erupting into a sustained standing ovation.
Expressing gratitude to the judge, Melissa’s father, Jeffrie Highsmith, received a warm response from the judge who joined in the applause. The judge then posed for a photo with the reunited family.
Melissa was abducted as a toddler from her Fort Worth, Texas, home on August 23, 1971, by an individual posing as a babysitter. Unbeknownst to her, Melissa grew up just 10 minutes away from her biological family under the name Melanie Miyoko. She eventually ran away from home at the age of 15, describing her upbringing as a challenging and unhappy one.
After years of searching, Melissa’s biological family located her when her biological father, Jeffrie Highsmith, took a 23andMe DNA test that revealed a connection between himself and one of Melissa’s three children. The discovery shattered Melissa’s understanding of her identity, prompting her to describe her whole life as a lie.
Six months later, the Fort Worth Police Department confirmed Melissa’s identity through a DNA test, bringing further closure to the Highsmith family. Although criminal charges may not be possible due to expired statutes of limitations, the police department remains committed to investigating Melissa’s abduction which occurred 51 years ago.
Melissa’s sister, Rebecca Highsmith Del Bosque, expressed joy on Facebook, celebrating the official confirmation of Melissa’s place in their family. Melissa’s husband, John Brown, also shared his excitement online, recognizing her resilience and offering hope to others.
While Melissa’s family seeks answers and justice, the focus now lies on embracing their newfound reunion and cherishing the time they can spend together as a complete family.
It was such a joy to witness this moment for Melissa Highsmith & her family in the courtroom today! She was abducted as a baby more than 50 years ago and is finally getting her old name back.
— Alanna Quillen (@AlannaNBC5) May 18, 2023