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

  1. Transcript of: Aunt of girl taken in ’87 wants to help find suspect

    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.

By
TODAY contributor
updated 1/21/2011 10:58:35 AM ET 2011-01-21T15:58:35

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.

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“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.

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Nurse impostor
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.

Video: Aunt of girl taken in ’87 wants to help find suspect (on this page)

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.

Video: Kidnapped 23 years ago, reunited with kin (on this page)

Online detective
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.

Related: Kidnapped girl finds her own mom after 23 years

‘Beautiful experience’
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.”

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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.”

Video: Kidnapped girl, family ‘picking up’ from where they left off (on this page)

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.

NBC News
Ann Pettway, the woman who raised kidnapped Carlina White, has a number of convictions.

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.”

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