48 years after disappearance of Dallas child, family continues to search for her

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Friday marks the 48th anniversary of when 18-month-old Melissa Highsmith was last seen.

Her mother said she put her child in the care of a babysitter, and her baby was never seen again.

The family said they are still holding onto hope Melissa is alive.

Melissa Highsmith would be 49 years old now, and while her family hasn't seen her for most of her life, they still feel that she is alive

“If I could go back, I would do things a lot differently,” Melissa’s mother, Alta Apantenco said.

Apantenco still holds a lot of regret about the last day she saw her baby girl.

She said she was a single parent in 1971, desperately needing a babysitter to watch her daughter while she was at work.

She put an ad in the paper, and a woman who gave the name Ruth Johnson responded.

The two talked by phone.

“She said, you know, I really love kids and I've got this huge backyard and the kids love to play out there, and I was desperate, I needed a babysitter because I was supporting myself,” Apantenco recalled.

Apantenco said the woman picked up Melissa from her roommate at the Spanish Gate Apartments on East Seminary Dr., and was supposed to drop the baby back off later that afternoon when Apantenco and her roommate got off work, but never did.

“I think what a horrible mother I was. That I could just let my daughter go with somebody I didn't know,” Apantenco said. “But you didn't hear about kidnappings that much back then, you know.”

She said police questioned her and her roommate, who described the woman as older, with gray hair, was wearing a scarf over her head, and white gloves. She drove a car with a loose muffler.

Police developed a suspect sketch, but over the years, no solid leads came up.

The family tried social media and DNA tests, but with no luck.

Apantenco went on to have four other children, who never met Melissa, but always grew up knowing they had another sister.

“I think all of us kids have dreamed about meeting her, fantasized about meeting our sister. Someday being able to say hello, we're here, we've always loved you,” Jeff Highsmith said.

The family has always held out hope Melissa is still alive.

They hope someone might recognize details from age-progressed photos showing what she would now look like in her 40s, or recognize a red splash birthmark on her neck or upper back.

“They say you can feel it in your heart if your child is dead, and I've never felt that really, that I know of. I feel like she's out there somewhere and she doesn't know,” Apantenco said.

“I told my mom as long as I have breath in my body, I'm not going to stop looking,” Jeff Highsmith added.

The family plans to host a vigil Friday at 7 p.m. at the apartment complex where she was last seen.