By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — The grandmother of a woman reunited with her mother more than 23 years after she was snatched from Harlem Hospital says the kidnapper who took her granddaughter should be punished but that she doesn't have "hatred in her heart."
Carlina White, 23, was reunited last week with her mother Joy White more than two decades after she was stolen from Harlem Hospital as a baby. The New York Post reported that the U.S. Justice Department would pursue kidnapping charges against Ann Pettway, the woman Carlina — who was raised as Nejdra Nance — originally thought was her mother.
"She should serve some time, but not life, for taking 23 years of my daughter's life," said Elizabeth White, 71. "She practically destroyed my child when she took her daughter."
The grandmother said she didn't understand why the family of the alleged kidnapper did not ask questions when she brought a 19-day old baby home out of the blue.
"It was all over the news about Carlina being taken. If I had a sister that showed up with a baby, I'm going to ask some questions," the elder White said.
"But now we feel like we can pick up where we left off instead of thinking about the bad things. All that matters is that we have her back. We are happy and it seems like the whole world is happy with us," she added.
Her phone rings every few minutes with calls from national media outlets. The Oprah Winfrey Show and Rachel Ray have already called. The family is planning a big reunion.
"I never gave up hope. I thought one day she would knock on that door. I wouldn't go out of the house sometimes because I was afraid I wouldn't be home when she came back," said Elizabeth White.
She said that Carlina White now refers to her as grandmother, and Carlina is already Aunt Lina to her nieces and nephews.
Given what Carlina White said she went through growing up, her grandmother said she's happy it did not break her granddaughter's spirits. It has been reported in the Daily News and elsewhere that Carlina White was allegedly abused by those who raised her.
"Carlina told us this woman would hit her in the face with a shoe. But after seeing her, you would never think she was abused. She is a happy, outgoing girl," Elizabeth White said.
Speaking from the apartment where she last saw her granddaughter more than two decades ago, the elder White said she remembered telling her daughter to take Carlina to the hospital because she was running a fever of 104 degrees. Joy came home from the hospital to get some rest after being up with the baby for hours.
And then NYPD Detectives came knocking at her door.
"I knew it wasn't good news. I asked the detectives did my granddaughter die and they said: 'No. Somebody took her,'" Elizabeth White said. "At first I thought that they would bring her back but then days and days turned into years. But I always knew she would come back."
That period was difficult for her daughter Joy, Elizabeth White said. Joy was a happy, outgoing and mature teenager who took her job as a young parent seriously. Afterwards, she fought deepening depression.
"Joy didn't want to go anywhere or do anything," said White. "All of Carlina's things reminded her of her baby. I had to get everything out of here. I gave it to the girl down the hall who had a baby. Joy couldn't stand to see anything."
Joy went on to have two more children, including a daughter that reminded the family of Carlina, and she moved on with her life but never forgot.
"Having her other kids helped but it did not completely take away the pain. She still though about her child all the time," the elder White said.
Elizabeth White said her daughter fell very ill about a year ago and was in the hospital on a respirator. When she came through, her first thoughts and words were about Carlina.
"I told her then that 'I hope you find Carlina before I leave this earth'," she said.
A few weeks ago, Elizabeth White said she was visiting relatives in Philadelphia when she heard a voice speaking to her literally out of nowhere, and it said: 'Hello there.'
"It was such a nice, kind voice. I said maybe that was an angel," she said.
White left Philadelphia to come back to New York and was feeling better than she had felt since her granddaughter went missing.
"Then I came home and a few days later my daughter told me they may have found Carlina," the elder White said.
"I didn't want to tell anyone that story because I didn't think anyone would believe me. But everyone has."