— Ever since his infant daughter Carlina White was abducted from Harlem Hospital 23 years ago, Carl Tyson was missing a piece of himself. Walking down a street, he’d spot a parent strolling with a child and wonder if the baby could be his.
Last week, after many missed Christmases and birthdays and trips to the park, Tyson was at last reunited with his long-lost daughter. But the long-delayed event has been bittersweet, Tyson told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Monday.
“I have joy, yes,” Tyson said. “I’m happy that now my daughter came back to me. The only problem I’m having is that it’s hard for her to cope with us right now, because she hasn’t been with us for 23 years.”
Abducted as an infant
Carlina was just 19 days old in 1987 when she developed a fever, and Tyson and the infant’s mother, Joy White, took her to Harlem Hospital. There, authorities say, they were comforted by a woman posing as a nurse. They left the hospital, but when they returned, their baby was gone. For the next 23 years, the grief-stricken parents mourned the loss of their daughter, but never gave up hope that someday they would find her.
And then, last week, she found them.
Now 23, and a mother herself, the young woman who had been raised in Connecticut and Atlanta under the name Nejdra Nance had long suspected that Ann Pettway, the woman who purported to be her biological mother, was not. She regularly checked the website of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and, while looking through New York photos earlier this month, found one that looked nearly identical to her own baby picture. She contacted Joy White through the center.
White and Nance met in New York before DNA tests were complete, confident they were mother and daughter. After the test results confirmed it Wednesday, Nance returned from Atlanta to be with her long-lost family.
On Sunday, Pettway surrendered to federal authorities in Connecticut.
According to court papers from her appearance on Monday, the FBI said Pettway admitted kidnapping White after her own attempts to have children failed. Pettway also said in a statement that she was "truly sorry."
Tyson, who vowed in the first days after the kidnapping not to press charges if his daughter was returned, now says that he will support whatever action federal authorities take in the case. “Whatever the court system applies to her, it’s all right with me. I’m not going to say too much on that because I have other things in my heart,” Tyson said.
For both Tyson and Carlina, their reunion has been a challenge as well as a miracle. “It is a piece I’ve been missing,” Tyson said. “I feel that I have my piece, I have my whole puzzle, and I’ve got all four of my kids now.”
But his daughter is no longer a little girl — in fact, she has a child of her own. “I know I can’t do all the things that I wanted to do when she was little,” Tyson told Lauer. “On the day that I met her, I looked at her, and said, ‘Wow, I don’t know what to do with her — should I feed her baby food or should we go to McDonald’s?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know what to do with you either.’ What do you do with a 23-year-old?”
Fortunately, he added, Carlina had a suggestion: “She said, ‘Well, maybe I want to go get my hair done.’ ”
The long-awaited reunion has been just as challenging for Carlina after spending her entire life with another family, Regina Tyson, Carlina’s aunt, told Lauer. “I spoke to Carlina two days ago,” Regina said. “Carlina just wants everyone to know she’s not abandoning her New York City family, but the people that have provided unconditional love to her — it’s very hard for her to just up and leave.”
As for the woman who posed as her mother all those years, Carlina has told her aunt that she expects there will be justice. “She wants justice to be served, but the family that provided her with this unconditional love for these 23 years [had] no idea what was going on.”