— While the family of Carlina White is ecstatic at having her back 23 years after she was abducted from a New York hospital as an infant, they are clearly not content to let bygones by bygones. Carlina’s aunt told Ann Curry live on TODAY Friday she wants to see her niece’s abductor prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“She destroyed my family,” Lisa White-Heatley, sister of Carlina’s mother, Joy White, told Curry. “My justice: I want her to go to jail. I want them to give her time that they [are] supposed to give her for what she did, and what she did to my family.
“I think she deserves justice for that.”
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the remarkable 23-year case of Carlina White — an abducted infant who grew up to be a resourceful young woman renamed Nejdra Nance — is the longest-known gap between a child’s being kidnapped by someone other than a parent and then being reunited with their birth family. It is also reportedly the first recorded case of an infant kidnapped from a New York City hospital.
The particulars are these: In July 1987, at age 16, Joy White gave birth to daughter Carlina. When the child was just 19 days old, she ran a temperature of 104 degrees, so Joy and Carlina’s father, Carl Tyson, took her to Harlem Hospital. The family was met by an apparent nurse who told them Carlina would be OK.
But that same nurse — later found to be an impostor who had been lurking at the hospital, in uniform, for two weeks — apparently made off with Carlina. Joy White told the New York Post that just hours after Carlina’s admission, hospital staff said her baby had vanished.
Despite wide publicity and the family’s public pleas, New York police reached only dead ends in their investigation, and the case went cold. The family sued the city, and received a $750,000 settlement.
Still, it did little to make up for their loss. “That was like a big part of my heart just like ripped apart,” Tyson told the New York Post of losing his daughter.
In actuality, Carlina was living just 45 miles away from her parents in Bridgeport, Conn. Carlina told the Post she was raised by a woman named Ann Pettway — a somewhat distant mother whom Carlina claims abused her physically.
Raised as Nejdra Nance, Carlina became suspicious when, after becoming pregnant, she asked Pettway for her birth certificate so she could receive prenatal care. Pettway couldn’t produce the document, and eventually admitted she wasn’t Carlina’s biological mother.
Carlina began searching for her birth parents, using search engines to comb through articles about children who had gone missing in 1987. She finally came across a baby photo of a missing child on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website whose face she recognized in the face of her own daughter, Samani.
“Even though I didn’t [have a] baby picture when I was young, it looked like my daughter. I swear I stayed on that article for like a good two hours,” Carlina told the New York Post.
She contacted the Center for Missing & Exploited Children, as well as New York police. A DNA test proved what Carlina already believed — she was the daughter of Joy White and Carl Tyson.
The family had a never-dreamed-of reunion Saturday as Carlina flew from Atlanta, where she now lives, to New York City. White-Heatley attended the reunion with her sister Joy, and told Curry the years seemingly melted away when she eyed the girl she hadn’t seen since shortly after her birth.
“It was a beautiful experience, just to see your niece after so many years,” she said. “When I [saw] her face, she looked just like herself. I see the big old eyes; I said, ‘Oh, my God!’ and I just grabbed her. I was just so happy to see her.”
White-Heatley told Curry that Carlina seemed to bond with her true family in a heartbeat — along with her now 6-year-old daughter, Samani.
“I saw my little niece and she said, ‘Hi, Auntie,’ ” White-Heatley said. “[It was] like she knew me already, and I just hugged and kissed her.”
Carlina continually asked her family not to cry, as it would make her cry herself. But Regina Tyson, sister of Carlina’s dad Carl, said she couldn’t honor the request when she spoke to Carlina by telephone.
“The first thing she said was, ‘Auntie, don’t cry, I’m going to cry if you cry, [and] I’m going to hang up on you,’ ” Tyson told Curry on TODAY. “I said, ‘Well, you need to hang up, because I’m about to cry.’ ”
And when Tyson finally saw her niece in person at a family reunion dinner, she said the entire family had “immediate closeness” with their long-missing loved one. “For somebody who hasn’t seen you for that many years and saying, ‘Oh, hi Auntie,’ she felt connected.”
Looking for answers
Now the FBI is trying to make some connections itself in hopes of making an arrest in the case. While the statute of limitations has run out on a state level, federal charges could still be levied against Carlina’s abductor.
But no charges have yet been made, and police have not formally announced any suspects. It is not known whether Pettway, the woman Carlina says raised her, is also her kidnapper. Contacted by the New York Post at her home in Raleigh, N.C., Pettway said she was returning to Connecticut to answer questions.
“I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m coming back to straighten this all out,” she said.
Yet the Post reported Friday that Pettway has not returned to Connecticut. Law enforcement told the paper they are looking for her.
“As we’ve learned of her involvement in this abduction, we’ve been working to locate her, and we haven’t been able to reach her,” said Keith Acree of the Department of Correction in North Carolina. Pettway is currently on parole in the state after having been convicted of embezzlement.
Pettway also has other convictions, including petty larceny, criminal impersonation, felony larceny and drug possession. Carlina told the New York Post that Pettway’s arrest record “doesn’t surprise me. She got arrested a couple of times when I was around.”