Carlina White always suspected her "mother," Ann Pettway, was hiding something from her - and her dogged determination to expose that secret led to her solving her own kidnapping!
Carlina was just 19 days old in 1987 when Pettway, posing as a nurse, removed the tiny newborn from her hospital crib and boarded a train to Bridgeport, Conn. She called the baby "Nejdra Nance" and raised her as her own daughter.
But things were never quite right. They moved several times between Connecticut, Georgia and North Carolina, and Pettway was reportedly physically and verbally abusive. There were always hushed whispers about Carlina's parentage. Carlina never felt like she looked like the rest of her family. And Pettway, Carlina says, was always vague when pressed for details of her birth.
"I always felt like Pettway took me from my parents," Carlina later said. "She gave me too many different stories."
Meanwhile, back in New York, Carlina's real parents - Joy White and Carl Tyson - had tried to move on with their lives. After so many years, their grief had faded to the painful resignation that they'd never see their daughter again.
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By this point, Carlina was a teenager, living in Atlanta. She'd had a daughter of her own, and becoming a mother only heightened her suspicions about Pettway. Carlina began to search the internet for clues about her true identity.
Eventually, she called the hotline for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, telling them: "I don't know who I am." Carlina explained to the NCMEC operator that after she had given birth to her own child, she realized she didn't have any of her own important paperwork, like a birth certificate or Social Security card - and Pettway couldn't provide them.
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When Carlina tried to obtain copies from a family services department, the birth certificate she received listed her parents as "unknown." Then while searching the NCMEC website, Carlina later found a photo of a baby who went missing the same year she was born. She immediately started putting the pieces together.
With the help of the NCMEC, she had her DNA tested - and it turned out she was a match for the baby that had vanished from Harlem Hospital's pediatric ward in 1987. What followed was a tearful, joyous reunion with her birth parents in New York, who had split but remained friends.
However, it wasn't quite the fairy tale ending everyone expected - at least at first. Carlina returned to Georgia. After reuniting with her folks, they had a falling out over how money from a trust fund was spent. Harlem Hospital had settled a lawsuit over the kidnapping, and much of the cash was gone. Since then, the family has worked hard to rebuild the relationship that was stolen from them and say the trust fund squabble was "a misunderstanding."
As for the woman who caused that fractured bond, Pettway was charged with kidnapping and was sentenced to 12 years behind bars in 2012. She was released in April 2021, after serving her time in Alabama.
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