How A Kidnapped Baby Solved Her Own Abduction Two Decades Later

The first few signs of pregnancy developed rather expectantly for Joy White and Carl Tyson in 1987, with White developing morning sickness before delivering a healthy baby in a Harlem hospital, according to New York Magazine. But once their baby Carlina was born, weighing in at 8 pounds, their lives as parents became anything but normal. Just three weeks after Carlina's birth, White and Tyson took her back to the hospital after she developed a high fever.

After Carlina was admitted and given IV fluids, White and Tyson left to get some things — probably a toothbrush and a change of clothes, since the doctors told them Carlina would likely need to stay in the hospital for a week (via the New York Daily News). A few hours later, the couple got a call from the police, alerting them that their daughter was missing. In a turn of events that is every new parent's worst nightmare, someone had unplugged her from the machines delivering water and nutrients. Unbeknownst to any of the hospital staff, she had been kidnapped.

A baby arrives in Connecticut

In a neighboring state, another woman named Ann Pettway was telling her friends she was pregnant around the same time Joy White gave birth to Carlina, according to New York Magazine. But strangely, none of her friends or family, or the man suspected to be the baby's father, were with Pettway when she allegedly gave birth. Instead, it was thought that Pettway left town to have her baby and returned with an infant seemingly out of nowhere. Some of the strangest places kidnapped children have been found are in their own "homes," meaning someone abducted them as a child and raised them as their own. 

Such was the case with the baby Pettway named Nejdra and called Netty. With the help of her younger sister, Cassandra, Pettway worked as a janitor to support her family and raise the child. Later, Netty said her aunts and cousins always used to say that she looked like someone from outside the family. Pettway had darker skin, while Netty was lighter-skinned. Netty herself told New York Magazine that she never really saw the resemblance between her and her mother.

'You cry for the baby'

When Joy White and Carl Tyson arrived at the hospital in Harlem to get care for their sick daughter, Tyson told New York Magazine he was greeted by a woman he presumed to be a nurse because she had on the uniform (although she was suspiciously missing a name tag). Further creeping the new parents out, the unnamed nurse went on to tell White, "The baby don't cry for you — you cry for the baby." Tyson, uneasy that this was how a young mother would be comforted by hospital staff, noticed the oddity of this phrase but didn't dwell on it, per New York Magazine. After all, what do you say to someone implying that your sick baby was fine and it was really her mother that was in trouble?

However, any instincts the new parents had that something was up with the nurse were right. Later that night, when the parents went home to collect their things, someone took Carlina from the hospital, timing the kidnapping to fall between the shift rotations that took place every five minutes (via New York Daily News). When hospital staff discovered Carlina's nurse did not actually work at the hospital, she immediately became the suspect. But by then, she was already long gone, without a trace left behind. 

The case goes cold

Police had one other suspect after Carlina's kidnapping in 1987, but after they tracked her down, they realized she had a reliable alibi, and she was considered innocent (per New York Magazine). With no other leads, the case went cold for more than 20 years. Devastated, White and Tyson blamed themselves for leaving Carlina in the hospital for even a moment alone and were left to cope with the loss of their child for the next two decades (via New York Magazine). According to the New York Daily News, White was plagued with questions of whether her baby had survived, if she was being fed, and if she had taken her first steps.

Meanwhile, Pettway began raising the new daughter she had come back with after her absence from Connecticut. Although Pettway was later found to be abusive toward Netty — once hitting her in the face with a shoe — Netty said (via New York Magazine) that she was "never cruel." In fact, Netty said that she grew up thinking that Pettway was a cool mom. Pettway had another child, Trevor, and Netty welcomed him as her little brother into their family.

A clue comes a generation later

Years passed without anyone reading too seriously into the jokes that were made about Netty being from outside the family. But then, in 2004, Netty got pregnant when she was a senior in high school, according to New York Magazine. While seeking medical care for her future baby, Netty needed to acquire her birth certificate as a means of identification. When Netty asked her mother for the document, she oddly brushed it off, saying she would handle it. But she never did.

So, Netty took matters into her own hands and went searching for the document in Ann Pettway's things. Taking the paper she found to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in New Haven to get care, the clerk scanned the document, only to realize it was phony. The more Netty pressed, the more suspicious the case became, and ironically, people at the office thought she might be trying to pursue a false identity.

The visit tipped off the Department of Children and Families, who called Pettway soon after. As a result, Pettway sat down with Netty to break some news to her. "Your mom left you," she said (via New York Magazine). "And she never came back."

Solving her own case

The news was a bombshell for Netty, who was left with dozens of questions about her life that Ann Pettway refused to answer, according to New York Magazine. By day, life went on. Netty had her own baby, Samani, in 2005. She graduated from high school, got a job, and moved to her own place in Atlanta, Georgia. But the questions Netty had about her childhood kept her awake. She spent nights searching for her birth mother, Googling things on the internet about missing children cases in Connecticut around the time of her birth.

In 2011, 23 years after her abduction, Netty found a photo of herself as baby Carlina on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website, per New York Magazine. There was even a birthmark matching the one that Netty still has in the photo, identifying her with certainty. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) got involved, and Pettway was eventually found to be the kidnapper, per The New York Times.

The case is closed

Later, Ann Pettway explained in the trial that she had several stillbirths and miscarriages back in the 1980s, leading her to become desperate for a child (via The New York Times). Inciting no sympathy in the parents who had suffered the kidnapping of their child, Carl Tyson told the New York Daily News he wanted Pettway to serve 23 years in prison because that was the amount of time that she had robbed him of spending with his daughter. Eventually, the judge settled on sentencing Pettway to 12 years in prison for her crime.

Netty was reunited with her birth parents, but everything was far from rosy. Netty found herself dealing with serious identity issues spurring from the lies she had been told throughout her life. Pettway had been her mother and raised her as her own for more than 20 years. She couldn't just return to her birth parents and pretend nothing had happened in that time. But Joy White had the patience only a mother can have, telling The New York Times she was elated that her daughter was alive and well. She always knew, she said, that Carlina "never gave up."