The Woman Who Found Herself

In 2005, a woman named Nejdra Nance was about to welcome a daughter into the world. And for the first time in her life, Nance, then either 17 or 18, really needed health insurance. So she asked her her mother, Annugetta Pettway, for help. Nance needed a copy of her birth certificate and Pettway, being her mom, had to have had a copy — parents typically do. But Pettway, without offering an explanation, refused. But, eventually, Nance found exactly what she was looking for:

Her actual history.

Nance, pictured above in her high school yearbook (via the New York Times), began suspecting something was amiss. Per various reports, Pettway — who may have picked up on Nance’s skepticism — finally handed over a birth certificate. But when Nance tried to use the certificate to obtain health insurance, she was informed that the document was fake. Nance demanded an explanation from Pettway and Pettway confessed: Nance was not her biological daughter. Rather, Pettway claimed that Nance was the daughter of a single mom with a drug addiction who had abandoned her just after birth.

Nance wasn’t convinced. And a few years later, at age 23, she discovered that her suspicion was correct. She had been perusing the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children where she discovered an image similar to the one below (via the BBC). She didn’t recognize the baby, but the age progression photo looked a lot like her and her new daughter. The missing child’s name wasn’t Nejdra Nance — it was Carlina White.

And Carlina White’s birth parents hadn’t abandoned her. Rather, they were the victims of one of New York City’s most famous crimes.

On August 4, 1987, White’s birth parents brought her to Harlem Hospital with a high fever. She was only 19 days old at the time and her parents received help from “a woman dressed in white nurse’s clothes who had been seen in the hospital for several weeks or months,” according to a New York Times article at the time. But that woman wasn’t actually a nurse. She was an imposter who had just suffered a miscarriage and, in an effort to have a child of her own, abducted White. This was the first time a baby had been abducted from a New York City hospital, made national news at the time, but had gone unsolved for two decades.

When Nance saw the age progression of White in 2011, she realized that she was Carlina White. A DNA test confirmed it and, 23 years after their baby was abducted from the hospital, White’s parents were reunited with their daughter. As for Pettway, she was sentenced to 12 years for the kidnapping and served most of that sentence; she was released from prison in the spring of 2021.

Bonus fact: White’s discovery of her true identity helped solve the mystery behind another missing child — in almost the same way. In 2011, when White’s story once again made national news, a Philadelphia man named Steve Carter began suspecting his own story may have had similar origins. Carter knew he was adopted and didn’t suspect anything was amiss about that part of his story — his parents had adopted him from an orphanage in Hawaii after “his biological mother disappeared without a trace after a stint at a psychiatric hospital,” according to HuffPost. But what neither Carter nor his adoptive parents knew was that his birth father wasn’t out of the picture by choice. Per CNN, “his biological father, Mark Barnes, reported him missing more than three decades ago after his mother, Charlotte Moriarty, took him for a walk and didn’t return.” Barnes had reported the abduction and, decades later, Carter discovered his own photo on the same website White had a year prior. Like White, Carter was able to reunite with some of his biological family. 

From the Archives: How a Rock Band Helped Runaway Kids Find Their Way Home: The music video that reunited families.