Family of kidnapped child searches for answers after tip leads to Daniel Island

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – The family of a child who was abducted over 50 years ago visited Charleston this weekend as they hold out hope after a reported spotting.

Melissa Highsmith went missing on Aug. 23, 1971, in Fort Worth, Texas, when she was 21 months old. A tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on Sept. 9 claimed she was spotted on Daniel Island.

Melissa’s brother, Jeff Highsmith, said about two weeks after the family found out about the tip, they decided to come to Charleston. Both Melissa’s brother and father passed out flyers on Saturday throughout various locations on Daniel Island.

“We’re going to have to go, whether it’s door to door, business to business and try to find our sister,” Highsmith said. “I feel like it’s a 50/50 shot, my sister is either in Charleston, or she’s not. I’ll take the optimist’s point of view. So if my sister is here, we’re going to do everything we can and fight like hell to try to find her.”

If she is still alive, Melissa would be about 52 years old and have a red birthmark on her upper back/neck area. The family assumes she most likely does not know that she was kidnapped.

Over the years, Melissa’s father, who is also named Jeff Highsmith, said there has been a lot of hurt through the years and a lot of letdowns. In response to the Charleston tip, he asks anyone with information to let the family know.

“I believe that [some] person knows more than they said,” he said. “They might have intimate knowledge of the original kidnapping, know about who took her or maybe know exactly where she’s at. If you’re out there and you’re listening, please just send an anonymous note to let us know where she’s at.”

Melissa was abducted by someone claiming to be a babysitter when she and her 22-year-old mother had recently moved to the area. After searching for a babysitter, her mother hired a woman who picked the child up from the mother’s roommate at their apartment while the mother was at work.

RELATED: Tip claims child kidnapped 51 years ago may have been spotted on Daniel Island

The mother told investigators that her roommate said the woman seemed nice and was dressed to impress, wearing white gloves. But when the babysitter did not return the child, the child’s mother called law enforcement.

After starting the ‘Finding Melissa Highsmith’ Facebook page in 2018 and searching for years, her brother sent a direct message to a person named Melissa Highsmith on Saturday. He has not heard back yet but hopes that he made contact with his long-lost sister.

“We just want to say that you have family that loves you and that we’ve never stopped looking,” her brother said. “We just want to be part of your life and just want to see your children, your grandchildren.”

The family held a vigil on Sunday evening at Waterfront Park on Daniel Island to spread awareness. The vigil brought concerned community members out to gather flyers as they prayed for her safety.

Melissa’s brother and father leave the Lowcountry on Monday but hope her memory remains on Daniel Island.

“When you go home and see the story, hug your child, give your family members a kiss and thank God that you have them,” her brother said. “Just be vigilant as a parent and protect your children; it’s a scary world out there. We’re hoping that Melissa’s memory will stay here, and eventually, we’ll find her.”

Anyone who sees her or thinks they may know where she is should call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-THE-LOST. A $20,000 reward is offered to anyone with important information.

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