More than two decades ago, a newborn sick with fever was snatched from a New York City hospital, her frantic mother returning to the emergency room to find an empty crib. On Wednesday, police said the baby — now a woman who reached out to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children because she suspected that the people raising her were not her real family — has been found.
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Carlina White was just 19 days old when she disappeared from Harlem Hospital on Aug. 4, 1987. Police searched for her kidnappers but never found enough evidence to charge any suspects. Her mother, Joy White, always had a feeling that her baby was alive, her family said.Video: Aunt of girl taken in ’87 wants to help find suspect (on this page)
"I never gave up looking for her," she told the New York Post.
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On Jan. 4, a woman known as Nejdra Nance, who was raised in Bridgeport, Conn., and now lives in Atlanta, contacted Joy White, sending along baby photos that looked nearly identical to shots of Carlina posted on a missing children's website. Nance told White she thought she might be her daughter.
Nance had long suspected that the people raising her were not her real family. After she found a photo of a familiar-looking girl on the website of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, she got in touch with the organization, which in turn contacted Joy White on Jan. 4.Video: Kidnapped girl, family ‘picking up’ from where they left off (on this page)
"She said she just had a feeling; she felt different from the people raising her," said Nance's maternal grandmother, Elizabeth White, 71. "She searched, and then she found Joy."
In a report that aired Thursday on TODAY, Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, told NBC News: "I think it's important that people recognize this girl is the hero. She's the one whose intelligence and tenacity resulted in her own recovery, reuniting her with her family."Video: Son finds birth mom at work (on this page)
After Nance got in touch with her, Joy White contacted the New York Police Department to see if it could help investigate whether Nance was really her missing daughter, Carlina White.
"It sounded legitimate and credible, so I had Missing Persons reach out to her," said Detective Martin Brown, who fielded the call. DNA tests performed on Joy White, her ex-husband, Carl Tyson, and 23-year-old Nance matched, police said: Nejdra Nance was Carlina White.
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"This is somebody who knew something was wrong in her life and took the initiative," Allen told Ann Curry live on TODAY Thursday. "She said, 'Things aren't the way they should be,' and so she reached out. All we did was follow the information that she gave us."
As part of their investigation, police are talking to retired detectives who handled the case years ago. Because she was so young when she was kidnapped, it's impossible for Nance to know if she has lived with the same family the entire time.Video: How cops learned they were dad, son (on this page)
Nance was on her way back to New York from Atlanta on Wednesday, said Elizabeth White, and Joy White was en route to the airport to meet her. But they already reunited once recently, when Nance came to New York with her 5-year-old daughter, Samani.
"It was wonderful, she didn't even seem like a stranger, she just fit right in," Elizabeth White said. "We all went up there, we had dinner together, her aunts were there. She brought her beautiful daughter. It was magic."
Elizabeth White said she didn't ask Nance too many questions about how she grew up or how she knew she was not a member of the family with whom she lived. She didn't want to push Nance too much.
"That will all come," Elizabeth White said of the history. "What's important now is our baby girl is home. She's home."Story: Abducted girl’s aunt: Kidnapper ‘destroyed my family’
"It's a message of hope," Allen told Ann Curry Thursday. "It's a message that many more of these children are recoverable. Today Carlina White becomes a symbol that the search goes on for lots of others of America's missing children."
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.
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