By Jennifer Glickel and Della Hasselle
MANHATTAN — A woman who went missing from Harlem Hospital 23 years ago when she was just a 19-day-old newborn was reunited with her overjoyed birth mother last weekend.
Carlina White, now 23, was raised in Bridgeport, Conn., under the alias Nejdra Nance, her biological family said. She was kidnapped on Aug. 4, 1987 from Harlem Hospital after her then 16-year-old mother, Joy White, brought her in with a high fever, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Carlina, who now lives in Atlanta, Ga., with 5-year-old daughter, Samani, had always suspected that the family raising her wasn't her own, according to her birth family.
Ann Pettway was identified by White as the woman who raised her and claimed to be her mom, the New York Post reported. White figured out that Pettway wasn't her real mother when the woman failed to produce documents like her birth certificate for her driver's license, or for prenatal care when she got pregnant, the paper reported.
After an Internet search turned up a familiar-looking photo of a girl named "Carlina Renae White" on the website of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Carlina got in touch with the organization, her family said. On Jan. 4, the organization contacted Joy White.
Less than two weeks later, Carlina was reunited with her birth family.
The US Justice Department will pursue the case against Pettway, the Post reported. There is no statute of limitations for kidnapping charges if the victim was under 18 and is still alive.
Carlina's reunion with her birth parents, who are divorced, took place at LaGuardia airport on Saturday, according to the Post.
"When I saw her, my heart just dropped. She said to me 'Dad, don't start crying.' How could I not cry," Tyson White told the paper.
The mood was equally joyous at the home of Carlina's biological mother, Joy White.
"On Sunday we had a family dinner and the kids were running and playing around and it felt like Carlina had been with us all the time," said the kidnapping victim's biological grandmother Elizabeth White, 71.
Joy White was not available for comment, but her other daughter, Carlina's biological sister, echoed her grandmother's sentiments.
"My kids were already calling her Aunt Lina," said Sheena White, 18, of her two-year-old twins.
On Tuesday, the NYPD matched the daughter's DNA to the mother's, confirming that Nejdra Nance was, in fact, Carlina Renae White.
"When I heard the news from Joy, I didn't want to get too excited because the DNA results hadn't come back yet," Elizabeth said of meeting her long-lost adult granddaughter.
"But in my heart, when I saw her, I knew it was her because she looks just like Joy and has her father’s eyes. When they got the results of the DNA test, that's when I was really happy because there were no more doubts in my mind," Elizabeth added.
Nejdra, born Carlina, quickly embraced her place in the White family, her grandmother said.
"As soon as Joy told her name and she found out she was Carlina, she's been going by that ever since."
The family plans to stay close and go into the future acting just like what they are — a family.
"I'm just going to try to be her grandmother just like she wants me to be," Elizabeth said. "I told her to call me grandma and she did, and she acted like she had been around me all the time."
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children now has the word "LOCATED" emblazoned across the photo of Carlina as an infant.