Abduction and Recovery: A Miracle Story 50 Years in the Making

By Richard Young | Posted December 06, 2022

The drama began inauspiciously: In 1979, Alta Apanteco, a working, single mom from Fort Worth, Texas, needed a babysitter for her 22-month-old daughter, Melissa. So she put an ad in the local newspaper. A woman soon called to say that she could take the job. While Alta was at work—bringing customers their meals and drinks—the “babysitter” arrived at her home. Alta’s roommate, not knowing any better, handed Melissa to the stranger.

And with that—Melissa disappeared from her family’s life for more than 50 years.

Alta’s account raised questions in the minds of police detectives: Why would a mother hand off her child to someone she had never met? After all, before making a purchase, most people will spend a lot of time looking over a car—but this mother allowed a complete stranger to take her daughter without a face-to-face meeting? Thus, besides the heartache of her child being kidnapped, Alta experienced the trauma of police suspecting that she murdered Melissa, though no charges were ever filed.

The family, even after more than 50 years, never gave up looking for their lost child. They celebrated her birthday each year. “For decades, the family searched. They did podcast and newspaper interviews to keep Melissa in the spotlight. They commented on a Websleuths discussion forum set up for the case. They rushed to other states when they thought they had a lead.”

Melissa’s Redemption

The baby, of course, never knew what was happening to her. Melissa grew up in Fort Worth—not far from her true family—thinking that her name was Melanie. The household she grew up in was, she says, an abusive one. She never felt loved, and her “mother” had told her that she had bought Melanie in a bar for $500. Even while unaware of her true background, Melissa sensed that something was radically wrong, and at 15 years old, she ran away and lived on the streets.

Then, in September 2022, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received an anonymous tip that Melissa had been spotted in South Carolina, made possible by an age-progression photograph. Her family was contacted, and although everyone was at first skeptical, Melissa had DNA tests done, and, to everyone’s shock, surprise, and joy—yes, she had been the infant abducted more than half a century earlier.

The family Facebook page reads: “We are beyond thrilled to announce that WE FOUND MELISSA!!! There are so many details we would like to share, but for now, we would just like to say that we followed a 23&Me family DNA match that led us to her.”

What an incredible story! And what’s fascinating, too, is how her abduction and recovery reflect what has happened to humanity—and what God has done to save it.

The Plan of Salvation

For starters, we have all been “abducted”— by sin, by evil, by death. We were no more supposed to have been in a world with all these terrible things than Melissa was supposed to have been in that abusive home. We also have been taken from our real home, an unfallen world. (See Genesis 1–3.) No wonder the Bible, speaking of faithful people, calls them “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). We are strangers and pilgrims on Earth.

The woman pretending to be the babysitter appeared safe, harmless, and friendly. “The roommate said the woman who came to get the toddler seemed ‘nice’ and ‘dressed to impress, wearing white gloves, sunglasses, and a bonnet.” In the same way, Satan, our nemesis, can also appear harmless and friendly, masking his true intentions. Indeed, the apostle Paul warned, “For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:4).

Meanwhile, Melissa always felt something was wrong with her home life. And though she fled, life on the street was also hard; she could never seem to escape the struggle. It’s like that here, with us, in this fallen world. Who doesn’t see that there is something terribly wrong with things as they are: war, famine, poverty, disease, depression, death? Paul writes that “the whole creation groans and labors” (Romans 8:22). And though people try—often through alcohol, drugs, or promiscuous sex—to “run away” from it all, it never works.

One can imagine, too, the pain and the sorrow that the family felt over their missing child. God feels the same way about us, about those who don’t know Him, about those who are lost: “For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways’” (Psalm 95:10). He felt that way then, and He does so now.

Also, just as Melissa’s family never gave up, God doesn’t give up on us. As Scripture says, God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The whole reason He has called His church to proclaim the gospel to everyone is that He wants everyone to be saved. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). And as long as we are alive, He won’t give up on us, just as Melissa’s family never gave up on her.

There is much more that happens in the plan of salvation, in what God has done, is doing, and will finally do to rescue us from the abduction we fallen beings have experienced in this world. To learn more about what we have been offered in Jesus, watch “The Plan of Salvation.” 

Richard Young
Richard Young is a writer for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.

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