HARTFORD, Conn. – A girl who was kidnapped as an infant from a New York City hospital and grew up in Connecticut told state officials when she was a teenager that she believed her birth mother was a drug addict who had given her up, the state's new child welfare commissioner said Tuesday.
Carlina White, who was raised in Bridgeport as Nejdra Nance, told the Department of Children and Families back when she was 16 that the woman raising her, Ann Pettway, had informed her that a drug-addicted mother had given her to Pettway as a baby in 1987, Commissioner Joette Katz told reporters at a news conference announcing her top staff.
"No one thought kidnapping was on the scene at that time," said Katz, who has ordered a special internal review of the agency's involvement in the case. "She thought she came from a woman who had just dropped her on somebody else's doorstep."
Pettway, who recently lived in Raleigh, N.C., surrendered last month and has been charged with kidnapping White, who now is 23 and has reunited with her biological family. Pettway has confessed to taking White from Harlem Hospital as a baby in August 1987, the FBI says.
Pettway was ordered detained in New York on Jan. 24 after her lawyer said no bail application would immediately be made, and she didn't enter a plea. Her lawyer said she was very upset and felt bad and understood the gravity of the charges against her, which could result in more than 20 years in prison if she's convicted.
Katz said the state child welfare agency exchanged information about the case and questions about the identity of the girl's biological parents with the FBI and local police in 2005.
The FBI on Tuesday did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press for comment. Katz said the New Haven Police Department was contacted by the child welfare agency, but the police department's spokesman said there was no record of reports filed on a Nejdra Nance.
The Department of Children and Families has said that in 2005 it opened a file involving White and Pettway. Katz said the agency provided housing and educational assistance to the girl and "got her through college." However, Katz said the agency failed White by not doing enough to help her find her biological family.
"Children need to know and want to know where they came from," she said. "That's something that lives with them forever."
Katz said this case shows that the health and welfare of children under her agency's watch should be addressed in a more holistic manner.
"Clearly, this child was looking for something," she said.
White was 19 days old when her parents took her to the hospital with a high fever late on Aug. 4, 1987. Her parents, Joy White and Carl Tyson, said a woman who looked like a nurse had comforted them. The couple left the hospital to rest, but their baby was missing when they returned the next day.
A police investigation failed to find the baby.
Carlina White, who lives in the Atlanta area, said she had long suspected Pettway wasn't her biological mother because she could never provide her with a birth certificate and because she didn't look like anyone else in Pettway's family.
She periodically checked the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website and last month found a photo that looked nearly identical to her own baby picture. She contacted Joy White through the organization, and they met in New York before DNA tests were complete, confident they were mother and daughter.
Test results later confirmed it.
Associated Press correspondent Michael Melia contributed to this report.