Every 40 seconds, a child in the United States goes missing or is abducted. This equates to more than 765,000 children each year. While the vast majority of these cases are resolved within hours, others take days, weeks, or in some cases, decades. In a case that many consider a parent’s worst nightmare, infant Carlina White was kidnapped only to be reunited with her family 23 years later.
In 1987, Carlina White was snatched from a hospital by a stranger who authorities would later find out to be Annugetta Pettway, who would go on to raise the girl as her own. It would be many years later before Carlina would accidentally discover her real identity and the horrendous crime committed by her kidnapper. What happened after she was reunited with her birth mother would also shock the country.
On August 4, 1987, Carl Tyson and Joy White brought their nineteen-day-old daughter, Carlina White, to Harlem Hospital Center in Harlem, New York City. Carlina, who was named after her father Carl, had developed a 103-degree fever and an infection. Just a few hours after arriving at the hospital, she would be smuggled out by Annugetta “Ann” Pettway.
As any loving parents would be, Carlina’s parents Carl and Joy were distraught. They learning that their daughter was ill after having swallowed fluid during her delivery just a few weeks prior.
A woman dressed in all white, who Joy assumed was a nurse, comforted the worried parents as their baby received treatment.
However, the woman would soon disappear from the pediatric unit, along with Carlina White.
Sometime between 2:30 and 3:55 a.m., when shifts were changing. The woman in white pulled out Carlina’s IV and abducted her from the hospital. Later, a security guard would report having seen a woman that matched the kidnapper’s description. She leaving the hospital at about 3:30 a.m.; however, no infant was visible. The guard believed that the heavyset woman could have been hiding the baby in her smock.
Carlina White was raised by her kidnapper as Nejdra “Netty” Nance. While born in Harlem, she was raised by Ann in Bridgeport Connecticut. Her biological parents lived only 45 minutes from that place. Carlina attended Thomas Hooker School and later graduated from Harding High School.
In 2011, Carlina told New York magazine that although Ann was somewhat distant, she was a responsible caregiver. “She was strict, but she was cool. All my friends used to say she was a cool mom,” she said. “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.”
As Carlina reached her teen years, she and Ann would move to Atlanta, Georgia. It was there that Carlina became suspicious that Ann was not really her birth mother. In 2005, Carlina became pregnant and needed health insurance. She asked Ann for her birth certificate and social security card. Ann didn’t provide them, so she couldn’t obtain insurance.
After going through Ann’s documents on her own, she found what she thought was her birth certificate. After trying to use the document to get health insurance, she was told by authorities the birth certificate was fake.
That evening, Carlina returned home to confront Ann about what she had discovered that day.
While shocking, this revelation did not come as a complete surprise to Carlina. Over the years, she had begun to notice that she did not share any physical traits with Ann.
While Ann refused to offer any information about her biological mother, Carlina wanted to know more. She spent several years researching kidnapping stories in the Bridgeport area. In 2010, 23-year-old Carlina expanded her search outside of Connecticut. She discovered a baby that had been abducted around the same time she was born.
The photo of the kidnapped baby located on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s website looked just like her own daughter and the pieces came together.
Aided by Ann’s sister, Cassandra Johnson, Carlina called the center’s hotline in December 2010. She was able to narrow down her birth parents to two possible cases.
Soon after, the NYPD contacted Carl and Joy for DNA samples.
Even before the samples were found to be a match, Carl and Joy began speaking on the phone to Carlina. In early 2011, Carlina got on a plane to fly to New York for a reunion.
Just before reuniting in person, Carlina and her biological parents were told that the DNA samples were a match. The family had an emotional reunion and spent several weeks remaining in constant contact.
However, Carlina struggled to form a relationship with her biological parents.
During her time in New York, Carlina met her extended family, including her biological grandmother Elizabeth White. She brought her own daughter and visited with her biological aunts and other family members, even having dinner together.
Carlina returned home soon after but when national news broke out about the tearful union, she flew back to New York to do a series of interviews. She later revealed that the interviews felt forced and that her relationship with her biological parents was not as developed as the media made it out to be. Soon after, Carlina began to pull away from her birth parents and returned to her home in Alabama.
In 1987, New York City Police detectives began an investigation to help locate infant Carlina. They spoke to a Baltimore woman who witnesses had identified as having been seen around the hospital but no arrests were made. It wasn’t until Nejdra Nance was identified as Carlina White that the Federal Bureau of Investigation started its search for Ann Pettway.
Although the statute of limitations for kidnapping in the state of New York had expired, there is no statute of limitations on kidnapping in federal law.
On the morning of January 23, 2011, Ann turned herself into the FBI office in Bridgeport. She revealed to federal investigators that she kidnapped Carlina after having suffered multiple miscarriages due to her stress about whether she would ever become a parent.
Ann chose not to enter a plea at her arraignment where she faced between 20 years and life in prison for kidnapping. She was indicted by a federal grand jury on the kidnapping charge on February 17, 2011.
However, the judge deemed Ann’s actions selfish and believed the sentence to be too lenient. The judge believed that Ann should receive the same amount of time that she kept Carlina, 23 years.
Ann served her sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Aliceville, Alabama. She was released on April 14, 2021.
Although Carlina distanced herself from her biological parents after experiencing overwhelming media attention, she did tell New York magazine in 2011 that she is on good terms with them and speaks to them occasionally on the phone.
Carlina has since changed her legal name to Carlina White from the former Nejdra Nance but continues to use the nickname “Netty” which she chose herself.
In 2012, Carlina attempted to sue New York City for $2 million due to her traumatic experience of being kidnapped from her birth parents in a New York City hospital. However, Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Freed denied her lawsuit, stating that she could not sue the city because her parents, Carl and Joy, had already sued on her behalf in 1988.
Carlina’s biological parents won their lawsuit, collecting a settlement of $750,000 that included money they set aside for Carlina if she were to be found before her 21st birthday. Unfortunately, the money was spent before Carlina solved her own case and was reunited with her biological parents.
Not much is known about Carlina White today.
In 2014, she shared her story and discussed the importance of awareness and prevention in stopping child abuse. The conference attendees were moved by her powerful message.
Her story has also been told in ‘Abducted: The Carlina White Story,’ a crime film starring Keke Palmer, Aunjanue Ellis, and Sherri Shepherd, now available to stream on Hulu, Prime Video, The Roku Channel, YouTube, and Lifetime Movie Club.