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Video: Aunt of girl taken in ’87 wants to help find suspect

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    LESTER HOLT, co-host: Now to the incredible story of a woman abducted as an infant more than 23 years ago. Carlina White was just 19 days old when she was kidnapped from a Harlem hospital . That was 1987 . Carlina suspected the person who raised her wasn't her mother. And after years of investigating, she tracked down her real parents. Here's the woman who allegedly kidnapped her. Her name is Ann Pettway . Officials in North Carolina say a warrant has been issued for her arrest. As for Carlina , she's now back with the family that hasn't seen her in nearly 24 years. Lisa White-Heatley and Regina Tyson are Carolyn's -- Carlina 's aunts. And Dr. Janet Taylor 's a psychiatrist. Good morning to all of you. Thanks so much for coming on.

    Group: Good morning.

    HOLT: Ladies, let me start with you first off. Can you tell me how she's doing, how she's coping with her new family ?

    Ms. LISA WHITE-HEATLEY (Aunt of Woman Kidnapped as an Infant): Well, I think she's coping good with the family , but she's having, you know, a -- I think a little difficult time just adjusting to it.

    HOLT: And, Regina , has she embraced you all as family ?

    Ms. REGINA TYSON (Aunt of Woman Kidnapped as an Infant): Yes.

    HOLT: You're not strangers to her?

    Ms. TYSON: No.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: No.

    HOLT: What was the first interaction?

    Ms. TYSON: Well, I had spoken to her before it aired and we were speaking for like a good two weeks. So when I did meet up with her at the Essence House , and I walked in, she looked at me. I looked at her. And she was like, 'Auntie.'

    HOLT: So she -- immediately the...

    Ms. TYSON: Yes.

    HOLT: ...connection was made more than just a...

    Ms. TYSON: Yes.

    HOLT: ...just a friend, that she's accepted you all as family .

    Ms. TYSON: Yes.

    HOLT: Has she talked much about Ann Pettway , the woman who's accused of taking her?

    Ms. TYSON: No, not to me.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: I never had the discussion.

    HOLT: And have you followed the developments now?

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: Yes.

    HOLT: She's a fugitive.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: Yes, I've followed it. And I would like to go and find her myself.

    HOLT: And let me turn to you, Regina . Your brother is now estranged. But tell me his first reaction in finding out that his daughter was alive.

    Ms. TYSON: Well, my brother never gave up hope at all whatsoever. My brother always talked about Carlina . And until today, it's still like a mystery to Carl . Carl see her, he talks to her all the time, but he act like it's a movie to him. He -- I think the biggest part that -- the problem that Carl is having now is that she's not here. She's in Atlanta . She's all grown up. And he want her to be here.

    HOLT: Yeah. I know the whole family would like her to be here.

    Ms. TYSON: Yeah, I would love for her to be here.

    HOLT: And, Lisa , your sister, Joy ; talk about how she's bonding with her daughter.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: Well, she bond with her while she was here. But my sister's -- she miss -- she's missing like -- she met up with her. She met her daughter. And now her daughter's -- it's like bittersweet. She's here. Now she's -- now she's gone. You know? I think my sister wants her...

    HOLT: But she's part of her life now?

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: Yeah, she's part of her life.

    HOLT: Yeah.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: But I know my sister want her right here with her.

    HOLT: Yeah.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: But you know she has her own life.

    HOLT: Let me -- let me bring in Dr. Taylor into the discussion. I mean, things sound good here. This young woman -- young woman has started to bond with her family . What are the challenges though in a situation like this? Twenty-three years.

    Dr. JANET TAYLOR (Psychiatrist): I think they are good. But as they said, I mean, it's the adjustment of you have two separate lives and now you have to rebuild the pieces, which they will. And just like it's taken 24 years to find her, there's -- it's going to take time to rebuild the family again. And so the point is, you know, to take advantage of it. Take it day by day , understand you are a family . There are going to be conflicts. There's going to be disappointment, blame and guilt. Why isn't she here? You know? Why aren't we there? But just to be patient with it and just use the love, use communication, and also if they need outside help, some counseling, a neutral party, to help put things together, don't be afraid to do that.

    HOLT: But the truth of the matter is that -- we're all -- these are all adults here who have had separate lives , separate friendships and relationships. Is there a tendency in a case like this to force the relationship -- and I don't want to talk around you guys.

    Ms. TYSON: Sure.

    HOLT: I mean, I want you to talk about this as well.

    Dr. TAYLOR: Well, it's probably no more of a tendency to force a relationship than it would be if you have different personalities. But in this case there's an intensity because there -- you want to make up for all the lost time . But what I'm hearing is that that's still going to take time and that everybody has to come together, which they are.

    Ms. TYSON: Well, Carl and Joy , they never had any problems. And as a family , we always -- we -- I mean, like, family , they -- everyone argues.

    HOLT: Sure.

    Ms. TYSON: But Carl and Joy always had a great relationship. When the baby was kidnapped, Carl and Joy was together. They was together as one. I was with Carl and Joy two days ago at the hotel. They have a great understanding. They have separate lives . And you're supposed to be civil. And that's how Carl and Joy is dealing with it. They have both been highly affected. But at the same time, you know, we all want her to come home.

    HOLT: Of course. Yeah.

    Ms. TYSON: Lisa wanted to be with her.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: Yes.

    Ms. TYSON: I want her to be with me. But Lisa and I, we get along. We can do it all together.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: Yeah.

    HOLT: Sure. And, Lisa , how often would you talk about her? I mean, you know, over the 23 years?

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: Like if her birthday comes, my sister say, 'Oh, it's Carlina 's birthday.' Yeah.

    HOLT: And knowing she's out there somewhere?

    Ms. TYSON: Yeah, right.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: And I used to go to the beauty shop, you know, like years ago. I used to say, ah, you know my sister's daughter was missing, and I just come out of the blue . I don't know. It just comes out.

    Ms. TYSON: Yeah, that's me.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: Because I know that I think -- I think about her. And I 'm glad she's back.

    HOLT: Well, and we're all glad she's back.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: I'm glad she's back.

    HOLT: And this is -- this is a terrific story. And we wish you all the time and the space you need to connect as a family and to be happy. And we appreciate you sharing your story with us.

    Ms. WHITE-HEATLEY: Thank you.

TODAY staff and wire
updated 1/21/2011 2:37:44 PM ET 2011-01-21T19:37:44

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.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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