Carlina White was born on July 15, 1987. She grew up being known as Nejdra “Netty” Nance, and the young woman actually solved her own kidnapping case. When she was 19 days old, she was taken out of the Harlem Hospital Center in New York City, but it wasn’t by her mother. For years, the girl was living with and being raised by a woman who she could only believe was her mother. But in fact, it was her kidnapper.
Carlina only got to meet her biological parents when she was 23 years, which makes her case the longest known gap in a non-parental abduction in the United States where the victim is reunited with the family. Yes, it’s incredible. And yes, it’s a story for the movies. In fact, Carlina’s story was made into a television movie on Lifetime called “Abducted: The Carlina White Story.”
This is her remarkable story…
Nedjra “Netty” Nance
Netty Nance now 33 years old, and it’s been ten years since her story made headlines, and she was able to meet her real parents. She, too, is a parent, and in her words, “If it wasn’t for me getting pregnant, this never would have come out.” What Netty is referring to is the dramatic discovery she made that completely upended her life.
She spent a lot of time and energy, both embracing this revelation as well as trying to wish it away. In 2004, when Netty was a senior in high school, she lived in a poor neighborhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when she found out that she was pregnant. By that fall, she couldn’t hide it anymore. Nor did she want to – she was excited to be a mom!
How It All Began
Her cousin, Brittany, was also pregnant, and they spoke about being mothers together. But Netty needed prenatal care, and to get free services from the state of Connecticut, she had to show her birth certificate. And that’s when the story really began. Her father, a man named Robert Nance, was an occasional drug dealer who only saw Netty from time to time.
It was her mother, Ann Pettway, who did all the raising and support. But when the time came one day when Netty asked her mother for her birth certificate, Ann just brushed her off. “She said she was going to handle it,” Netty recalled. But Netty got tired of waiting, so she looked through her mother’s things. And she found something.
Accused of a False Identity
Netty found a document with her name and birth date on it, and she took it to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in New Haven. The clerk, however, couldn’t find her records. Netty wasn’t happy, and when she pressed on, a supervisor even accused her of trying to assume a fake identity.
The supervisor told the pregnant teenager that if she kept trying to pass off this document that she had as an I.D., she might be arrested. Netty was furious. “Keep it,” she said to the woman and stormed out of the office. When she got home, she told her mother what happened. Ann just shook her head and said, “I told you I was going to handle everything.”
The First Lie
Soon after, the Department of Children and Families called looking for Netty’s mother. Netty wasn’t in the know of their conversation. For all she knew, they told her that without proper I.D., Netty needed to enter their system and become a ward of the state. But whatever it was that they spoke about, Ann told Netty several days later, before she was leaving for work, that she wanted to talk to her when she came home.
When Ann came home that evening, she went straight up to Netty’s room, sat down on her bed, and started crying. In her whole life, Netty never saw her mother shed even one tear. “What are you crying for?” Netty asked her. “Your mom left you,” Ann told her, “and she never came back.” It was the first time Netty was told a lie that completely changed her life.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
It wasn’t until a full seven years later that Netty learned the rest of the story. She would eventually learn that her real name was Carlina White, and that was abducted as a newborn, 19 days after her birth, from Harlem Hospital only to never be seen again. And perhaps most shocking of all was for Netty to realize that this woman she called mom wasn’t even her mother.
Not only was Ann Pettway, not Netty’s real mother, but according to the police, she was her kidnapper. So who are her real parents? Their names are Joy White and Carl Tyson, and the couple had been the first among their friends to have a baby. The year was 1987.
Young, in Love, and Pregnant
Carl was 22, a truck driver who worked nights in a parking garage. Joy was 16 and still in high school. They each grew up in Harlem housing projects nearby one another. They had been dating for a year when Joy called Carl up at work one day, telling him that she felt sick. The pregnancy clearly wasn’t planned, but the couple chose to stay together.
Their baby girl, Carlina, was born at Harlem Hospital on July 15 and weighed a healthy eight pounds. Joy had the help of her mother, who took care of the baby at her home. Carl would come by every night after his shift. But on August 4, when Carlina was just 19 days old, she developed a dangerously high fever.
“The Baby Don’t Cry For You, You Cry For the Baby.”
Joy and Carl took the baby back to the hospital that she was born in. As they came in, Carl remembers being directed by a heavyset black woman, who looked to be in her 20s, wearing a nurse’s uniform. Carl didn’t really think twice about it at the time, but he looked for her name tag and couldn’t find one.
The doctor told the couple that they wanted Carlina to spend the night at the hospital for monitoring, and so Carl searched for a phone, so they could call their mothers. When he looked down the hall, he saw the young woman in the nurse’s uniform talking with Joy. “The baby doesn’t cry for you, you cry for the baby,” is what the nurse told Joy.
Little Did They Know
In essence, she was telling Joy that the baby was fine – that it was Joy who needed help. Carl remembers thinking it was a strange way to console a young mother. The couple then left the hospital together at around 12:30 a.m., at the same time as the nurses’ shift change. Carl then took Joy to her mother’s apartment, and he went home and went to sleep.
Carl’s phone rang at about 6 a.m. It was the police calling from Joy’s mother’s apartment. A detective told him that Carlina was missing. Joy grabbed the phone and screamed: “Please get here!” When Carl got there, police cars were everywhere, and detectives crowded the hallways. Little did either of them know that last night was the last time they would see their daughter.
An Inside Job
Inside the home, Joy was in a state that any mother would be in after hearing to such news; she was in pieces, sobbing. And soon Carl was, too. The hospital learned that Carlina was gone at 3:40 a.m. And whoever took her unhooked her IV tubes and left without being seen. The hospital claimed, though, that the baby was being checked every five minutes.
The police believed that the kidnapper knew the hospital routines really well and knew to take Carlina at just the right window of time. They suspected a heavyset woman whose staff members had seen around the hospital for the last few months. The woman wasn’t a nurse, the hospital said, but passed as one, even convincing other nurses that she belonged there. It was the woman Carl noticed right away.
No Sign of Them
Joy remembered that strange remark the woman told her that night in front of the hospital room. “She was trying to get rid of me,” Joy later said, “so she could take my baby away from me.” For a while, police thought they had a suspect – a 31-year-old woman by the name of Lucy Brockington. She was already wanted for car theft and fit the description.
Detectives even tracked her down in Baltimore and questioned her. But they ultimately decided that she had an alibi. And unfortunately, after that, they had nothing. There was no sign of the woman nor the baby. Carlina White was gone. And her parents were in shambles.
Everything Fell Apart
Joy was out of school for a year and had to take anti-anxiety medication to get through the day, also going to therapy several times a week. Carl said he “would hardly eat. I was angry with everyone. My temper was short.” He would go over that night at the hospital over and over again, asking why Joy didn’t just stay at the hospital.
He asked himself, “Why didn’t I stay?” His presence only reminded Joy of Carlina, as did hers for Carl. “It was so much to handle,” Carl recalled. They ended up breaking up about a year after Carlina vanished. It would take more than two decades, but Carl would later say, “I always felt that my daughter was going to come back. I didn’t know when, but I knew. Joy was the same way. She always had that feeling.” Carl, who’s large with bright eyes and caramel skin, had has a resemblance to Netty that is unmistakable.
Who is Ann Pettway?
Ann Pettway grew up in the East End of Bridgeport. She went to Warren Harding High School, the same high school that Netty would go to. Ann was a popular and fun girl to be around. “Everybody said she used to be bad,” Netty said about her. “She was out there with those Speedo shorts on, tube tops.” And she sure did have a bad streak.
As a teenager, Ann served a month in jail for larceny in a nearby town. Later, she would be caught in minor theft and forgery schemes, as well as one pot bust. But according to David Daniels, a Bridgeport police officer who knew the family, “she wasn’t a hell-raiser.”
She Said She Was Pregnant
In 1987, the year Netty was born, Ann told her friends and family that she was pregnant. Everyone figured the father was the boyfriend had been seeing on and off, a man named Robert Nance. One of Ann’s younger sisters, Cassandra Johnson, later told the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that the first time she Ann with a baby was when Ann arrived with the infant one day on a Metro-North train.
One of Ann’s cousins said that Ann left town for a period of time, and it seems as though no one that Ann knew was with her when the baby was born. She has no witnesses of her giving birth. And considering her weight, they also couldn’t tell that she wasn’t indeed pregnant. People just assumed that she went away to give birth and came back.
Living With a Monster
For whatever reason, Ann wanted a child and felt that her only option was to take someone else’s. Sadly for Joy and Carl, that child was theirs. And Netty would spend the first 23 years of her life thinking the woman who raised her was her mother. But Ann was far from the ideal mom.
In January of 2011, when the story got out of the alleged kidnapping, Netty told the New York Post all about her “mother.” She said that Ann was “an addict,” who was often in a drug haze. “There were always drugs lying around… I used to see weapons.” When Ann came down from one of her highs, Netty would run out of the house before Ann became “a monster” again.
That’s Just How it Was
Netty came clean with everything that she endured living in a home with this woman. But despite the absolute injustice and heartbreak, Netty said that she is more forgiving, even saying that everything that happened in her childhood was standard for where she grew up. “Growing up in an urban family,” she told the interviewer, “you were going to get beat, no matter what it was.”
As sad as the story is, Netty doesn’t like to call it abuse. “That’s what people want to hear, the sob story. But I wasn’t abused. Everything that an average person would have I had.” Believe it or not, she considers Ann as responsible, but remote. Never cruel to her, but not exactly tender, either.
She Did Support Her, Though
Despite all the drugs and mood swings, Netty still had this to say about Ann: “I’m not going to say she was the best mom ever, but she did what she had to do to make me who I am. She was strict, but she was cool. All my friends used to say she was a cool mom.”
Ann did support Netty, though, by working as a janitor at a local civic center. Until she started high school, Ann sent Netty to live with her own mother, Mary, during the weeks. Mary lived in a slightly better part of town, which meant Netty could go to a better school. Then, when Netty was about ten years old, Ann had a baby, a boy named Trevon.
Netty spent a lot of childhood with her cousins and aunts, and was especially close to Ann’s sister, Cassandra, who she called her “bestie.” There was at least one cousin who admitted that people in the family would speculate (behind Ann’s and Netty’s back) about the discrepancy about their looks. Ann was dark-skinned, but Netty was light.
Netty remembers looking at pictures of Ann, later on, to see if they had any resemblance whatsoever. “Everybody called me Little Ann,” she said. “But I didn’t see a resemblance.” Ann recalls the moment when Ann confessed to Netty that she wasn’t her mother. “My whole stomach just turned up,” Netty said. All these thoughts and questions went through her head, like, “What are you saying? What the hell are you talking about? This is not my family? That’s not my grandmother downstairs? ”
“She Left You and Never Came Back”
But let’s not forget that Ann told Netty was abandoned by her mother, omitting the real truth. But still, Netty had questions, asking her who her real mother was and where she came from. Had she met her mother, or was she left on the doorstep? But to each question, Ann gave the same answer: “She left you and never came back.”
She insisted that there was nothing more to it. She gave her no names; nothing. For weeks, Netty would ask her these types of questions, but it always led to a dead end. “Even when a year passed by, I was like, ‘You don’t remember nothing?’ ‘No.’ ” With time, and frustration, they stopped discussing the matter and told no one about it.
But Netty’s curiosity never faded. Deep down, she didn’t believe that she just fell into Ann’s lap. And so as her suspicions grew, her relationship with Ann grew more distant. Netty asked the caseworker from the Department of Children and Families if her DNA could be crossreferenced with the DNA database of missing children.
But she was told: “That’s TV stuff.” Robert Nance, her “father,” was in jail at the time on a sexual assault charge, and called Netty after an investigator visited him. Netty took the opportunity to ask him what he knew about her mother. He told her that he and Ann weren’t together when she was born. If Netty wasn’t his and Ann’s, he told her, then he wouldn’t have known.
Missing Child 1987
Netty’s daughter, Samani, was born in 2005. Netty still got her high-school diploma and got a job as a motel desk clerk. When Samani turned one, she moved into her own place. And by 2009, she moved to Atlanta, where her aunt (and “bestie”) Cassandra moved a few years prior. Netty then found work in a hair salon, did a little modeling, and still had dreams of being in the music industry.
Ann would send cards and gifts to Samani. Eventually, Netty told Cassandra about her secret, and Cassandra encouraged Netty to keep searching for her birth mother. Late at night, when Netty had some alone time, she would find herself searching the Internet for stories of missing children. She typed into Google: “Missing child, 1987.”
Finding a Photo
But with all of her online searches, she never found anything. Then, in late 2010, Netty went to the website for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. There she found hundreds of pictures of kids from all over the country. Then it dawned on Netty that she could be from anywhere, not just Bridgeport.
She went through the photo archive and saw a picture of a baby girl, a newborn just 19 days old who went missing on August 4, 1987. The photo caught her eye, and so she dragged the photo to her desktop to save it. That little baby’s face reminded her of her own daughter, and everyone told her that Samani looked just like her.
A Call of Desperation
Three days before Christmas that year in 2010, Netty called the center’s hotline. She muttered the words: “I feel like I don’t know who I am.” But she didn’t mention the photo of the baby. She got overwhelmed at one point and passed the phone to Cassandra, who was with her. “She was agitated,” the center’s president, Ernie Allen said.
“She talked about how she’d been trying to get information about her identity for five years. My sense was this was almost a call of desperation.” In that call, Netty revealed her suspicions about Ann. In Ernie Allen’s words: “She said she believed the woman known to her as her mother abducted her near the time of her birth.”
Reaching Out to Joy and Carl
Cassandra reminded Netty of a birthmark she has on her right arm, which was a detail the center used to cross-reference its records of missing children. “We ultimately narrowed the search to two cases,” Allen said. “And one of those was Carlina White.” The forensic unit compared Netty’s baby photos with the photo of Carlina when she was 19 days old.
They appeared to be a match. “There was nothing to suggest this was not Carlina,” Allen said. And just after Christmas, the center called Joy and Carl. Joy was at work she got an e-mail with photos of Netty. She screamed and cried out. “Both of them were adamant, saying this was their daughter,” Allen recalled. The center then contacted the NYPD’s missing persons unit.
Their First Conversation
Before even getting the DNA testing from Netty, Carl, and Joy, Netty decided to call Joy. The first conversation ever between this mother and daughter was on speakerphone, with all of Joy’s sisters. One of the aunts shouted: “Come home!” Netty had tiny doubts that this wasn’t her real family, but once Joy mentioned the birthmark, Netty was overwhelmed. “I said, Wow. This is real now.”
Netty then called Carl, which was more awkward, but she was still happy to contact them. For two weeks, Joy and Carl spoke with Netty often. “We’re talking, and all of a sudden she’s calling me ‘Dad,’ ” Carl said. “And I’m sitting here saying to myself; I can’t believe it. This is my daughter. That’s my firstborn. And Joy would be trying to call, too, and so she would say, ‘Dad, Mom’s on the phone.’ And I was like, This girl is calling us Mom and Dad!”
Meeting the Family
By January, Joy flew Netty and Samani, her granddaughter, to New York to visit them. Joy and her sister came to pick them up, and obviously, there were many tears involved. Happy ones, though. All of Joy’s extended family were at the house waiting to meet them. Netty then met her sister and brother (Sheena, and Sydney), her aunts, cousins, and a grandmother – Joy’s mother, Elizabeth.
For the time being, Netty and Joy didn’t talk about Ann Pettway or about Netty’s childhood. Instead, they focused on the good things, looked for common traits, cooked together, and watched Samani play. “It felt like this is where I belonged,” Netty recalled. The next morning, Carl came to meet Netty.
The Results Came In
When Netty finally met her father, he couldn’t stop staring at her. She said, “Do I have something on my face or something?” He said, “No, girl, you don’t understand what me and your mother went through. Just to see you standing here is a blessing. ” a few days later, Netty and her daughter were at the airport, waiting for their plane back to Atlanta.
A man came up to her and said, “Are you Nejdra Nance?” He said a detective told him to tell her to call him. He told her they got the DNA back and it came back positive. The NYPD had been trying to reach them, not knowing they were all in New York together. Upon hearing the news, she still boarded her flight back home.
The News Broke
The next day, the news broke. Until then, no child in American history had been missing for longer before being reunited with their parents. It was a big story. The Post wanted to fly Netty to New York and put her up with Carl and Joy, at a hotel. Netty agreed to come but went without Samani, who stayed with Cassandra.
When Netty arrived at the hotel, the whole media was there. “They were booking rooms on the same floor. I couldn’t leave the room without someone seeing me. They had to lead me out of the kitchen to leave the hotel.” As for Joy, she was ecstatic. “I always dreamed this,” she told a reporter. “Now, I can sleep!” Netty tried to be happy, too, but the attention made her feel uncomfortable.
As For Ann…
Netty couldn’t stop thinking about Ann in all of this. It wasn’t just that Ann lied to her; she was an accused kidnapper now. The FBI was searching for her, as she was facing a federal prison sentence of 20 years to life. For a few years now, Ann had been living in Raleigh, North Carolina, apparently working as a kitchen prep cook.
When the Post first reached out to Ann, she vowed to make things right. “I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m coming back to straighten this all out,” she told them. “I raised her, and I was a good mom.” But then she up and left the state, and disappeared, just like Carlina had 23 years earlier.
She Wanted Her to Suffer
In New York, Netty was growing harsh, refusing to look at a police sketch from 1987, or even refer to Ann by her name. “When I look at [Joy], I can see me. With that other lady, I would always be searching for stuff we had in common, but I had nothing in common with her.” Joy said, “I want her to suffer,” referring to Ann. “I want her to do some time, like I suffered for 23 years.”
After Netty returned to Atlanta, she stopped calling her newly discovered parents as often. The media was really getting to her, causing her to recluse. She even checked in to a hotel in Georgia to avoid being seen by reporters at her house. But the calls didn’t stop.
A Call From Oprah
A few years earlier, when Netty was still searching for her real mother, she wrote to the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’ but never heard back. But now, a producer from the show was on the phone, reading her letter back to her. Joy said she wanted to do the show, and Carl was fine with it. And Netty said yes at first, but then she changed her mind.
The weight of what was happening to Ann, and Netty’s role in it, started to sink in. She was also worried about her little brother, Trevon. Netty was lucky enough to have her real, new family. But Trevor only had Ann. What would happen to him if she went to jail for the rest of her life?
Joy and Carl were disappointed that they wouldn’t be doing the Oprah show and also that Netty was distancing herself from them. All they wanted was to see her more. But Netty was steadfast in her choices at that point. Then, on January 23, 2010, Netty saw Ann on TV, arranging her surrender to the FBI in Connecticut.
From the beginning, Ann’s lawyer, Robert Baum, was trying for a plea deal. He claimed that Ann wasn’t the monster that Netty made her out to be in the press. As for her motives, which were based on statements that Ann gave to the FBI after her surrender, Ann had miscarried during the summer Carlina was born. She was desperate to become a mother.
Ann’s lawyer said the evidence that Ann kidnapped Carlina is far from conclusive. He suggested that it’s possible that someone else took Carlina, but never gave an idea as to who or how Ann wound up with her. Carl went on TV, saying he didn’t think Ann was sorry. He also appeared on ‘The Early Show,’ saying, “I just got to move forward step-by-step.
Joy, on the other hand, went on ‘Today,’ saying Netty was actively distancing herself from both her and Carl. “I was on such a high when I first reunited with my daughter… And it really hurts me that it’s, it’s about money.” She was referring to the reports that surfaced of a trust fund. In 1988, a year after Carlina went missing, Carl and Joy sued the city for $100 million.
A Lost Trust Fund
In 1992, they finally reached a settlement of $750,000, which each parent’s share later reduced to $162,643. Carl and Joy then agreed to put half of their shares, a total of $162,000, in a trust fund for Carlina, in the case that she would return before her 21st birthday. But in 2008, after no sign of Carlina, the trust was liquidated, and Carl and Joy collected what they put in.
“I have two other kids,” Joy told ‘Today.’ “And I had to take care of myself. And I had to live.” According to Joy, Netty was less interested in reuniting with her real parents now that the trust fund was gone. But Joy also mentioned that she realized that Netty was indeed attached to Ann and her relatives.
Joy’s comments left Netty feeling betrayed. “How dare you go on TV and say something like that?” Netty asked Joy on the phone after seeing the show. “I never asked y’all for anything.” In May, Robert Baum, Ann’s lawyer, announced that Carlina White would testify on Ann’s behalf if needed. By July, Netty cut off all contact with Joy and Carl.
Ann Petway was then sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. The statements Ann made about miscarrying and wanting a baby so desperately essentially amounted to a confession in the court’s eyes. “This was not a crime of greed; this was not a crime of vengeance… it was an act of selfishness, a crime of selfishness that inflicted a parent’s worst nightmare on a couple,” Judge P. Kevin Castel of Federal District Court in Manhattan said.
Righting Her Wrong
Before sentencing 50-year-old Ann Petway, she apologized to the family and said, “I am here today to the right my wrong and ask for forgiveness.” Netty, however, didn’t attend the hearing after she chose to distance herself from the case. Joy and Carl made emotional pleas, asking for a prolonged prison term.
Ann Pettway pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping, under a plea agreement that carried a sentencing guideline of 10 to 12.5 years. When Netty was asked if she would want to visit Ann in jail, she made a face. “I don’t really know,” she said. “I don’t like jails, and I don’t like hospitals. That’s not what I do, and I’m not going to get out of my comfort zone.”
Netty also said that she would eventually communicate with Ann again, “But it’s going to take a little while for that to just when I’m ready to, I know that I will. Just not at this moment.” The hard part for Netty is talking about Ann with Samani. “She’s very close with my daughter,” Netty admitted.
“She did more stuff with her than I think she did with me. She took her trick-or-treating. Christmas, Halloween, school. She provided like a grandmother’s supposed to… She doesn’t know the story. I just say she’s on vacation.” Netty explained that she went off the radar because she needed to get clarity. “I have bills to pay. I have to teach my daughter. I’m trying to build my own career. I can’t just sit here and dwell.”
Reconciling with Her Parents
A friend of Joy’s said that Joy is sad and terrified of commenting publicly again, fearful of driving Netty further away. Carl is enraged. “She says she’s got to live her life? Okay,” he tells me. “But you’re not spending any time with your family. None at all. You say you don’t know us? Fine. We don’t know you. But how are you going to get to know us? I’m frustrated.”
Netty is aware of the pain she has caused Carl and Joy. “I did what I did because I felt like when I’m ready to dip back in, it’s going to be on a different note. The approach has to be better than it was the first time. It was just too much commotion.” A few weeks later, Netty called both her parents. Her conversation with Carl was short, but she talked to Joy for three hours.
From Netty to Carlina
The trust-fund issue, Netty says, was “just a misunderstanding.” What put her and Joy at odds was Ann and her sentencing. “I know they both want justice. I would feel the same way if someone did that to my child. But at the same time, I have unconditional feelings for [Ann].” All in all, Netty is happy; she knows the truth now.
So, what about the name? Is she going to remain Nejdra Nance? “I’ve been trying to get my paperwork together. When I get my I.D. and everything, it will say Carlina White.” But old habits die hard. When someone asks her what my name is, she naturally says Netty. According to her, “Netty’s not what the Pettway family gave me or what the White family gave me. It’s what I gave myself.”