Shock and dismay are still reverberating over the news of a woman who was reunited with her birth mother 23 years after she was kidnapped from Harlem Hospital when she was just over two weeks old.
Carlina White, 23, is back with her biological family in the Bronx, after searching the internet when she was unable to find her birth certificate or Social Security card. White also believed that she did not resemble members of her family.
Coming across a photo of herself as an infant on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website, White researched news stories about the kidnapping. A DNA test confirmed that her assumptions were true.
The woman accused of kidnapping White and raising her, Annugetta Pettway, 49, surrendered to authorities on Sunday in Bridgeport, Conn. on a probation violation. She was charged with federal kidnapping and faced the U.S. district attorney in Lower Manhattan on Monday. She is currently being held without bail.
According to court documents, in August 1987 White’s biological mother and father, Joy White and Carl Tyson, took their daughter to Harlem Hospital when she was 19 days old and had her admitted with a fever. In the early morning hours of the day after she was admitted, hospital personnel discovered White was missing.
On Monday, Pettway admitted to her role in the abduction in federal court. During an interview with the FBI, Pettway said she was having difficulty having children of her own and had had several miscarriages. She took White from Harlem Hospital, taking her back to Bridgeport where she raised her as her own, telling her family and friends the baby was hers. Pettway also confessed to a failed attempt at creating a fake birth certificate for White.
Pettway is charged with one count of federal kidnapping and could face 20 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In her interview, Pettway said she was “truly sorry” for what she did, but did not enter a plea because there was no indictment. She’s scheduled to appear back in court on Feb. 7.
“Nothing can compensate Carlina White or her parents for what was stolen from them when she was seized from the Harlem Hospital 23 years ago,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “But now they have been reunited, and the woman who allegedly kidnapped Carlina and deprived this family of the lives they would have had together will be prosecuted in Manhattan federal court.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice Fedaryk called the incident “traumatic,” and said that the situation is unimaginable for White’s parents.
Fedaryk said, “In a calculated deception, [White] was raised as the child of the woman now charged with her kidnapping. Those 23 years cannot be restored, but, unlike most child abductions, this at long last has a happy ending.”
Outside of federal court, Pettway’s public defense attorney Robert Baum said Pettway has owned up to what she’s done.
“She has expressed remorse for what has happened,” he said. “She surrendered herself for some of the remorseful feelings that she had.”
Baum added that Pettway was a “good mother” and that she should be seen in a more sympathetic light.
However, members of White’s biological family are not accepting Pettway’s apology. White’s biological aunt, Regina Tyson, told reporters on Monday that Pettway’s acts were unforgivable.
“Twenty-three years? You can’t express any remorse. I can say a couple of days, yes, but 23 years?” she asked.
Harlem Hospital Chief of Staff Sylvia White said that security at all hospitals in the Health and Hospitals Corporation has changed over the years since White was kidnapped, and that all of the hospitals, including Harlem Hospital, have adopted many security practices to keep patients safe.
Security measures at Harlem Hospital include issuing electronic wrist or ankle bracelets to babies and children that trigger an alarm if someone tries to take the child out of the unit. At the same time, magnetic locks in the doors lock down and elevators bypass the floor to prevent anyone from leaving.
Labor and delivery and pediatric units are self-contained areas with limited access. Hospital staff have special badges to indicate that they are authorized to work in that unit. Visitors must be signed in and out and must show identification, and parents are educated about whom they should give their children to within the hospital. Hospitals run periodic drills to test the systems and staff response.
Spokeswoman for City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, Lynette Velasquez, said that Dickens is happy that White was reunited with her family, calling the situation “bittersweet.” However, at the same time, she is disheartened. Velasquez said that the community should not rush judgment on Harlem Hospital for the 23-year-old incident.
“Since then, Harlem Hospital has implemented great security procedures so that this incident would not happen again,” said Velasquez. “[Dickens] feels that the woman who committed that act must have been disturbed to do that, but by the same token the young lady was robbed of her childhood. Some form of punishment needs to be leveled here but also the councilwoman feels that [Pettway] needs some type of psychological evaluation.”
Assemblyman Keith Wright said that that his own son was born in the same month and year as White, and he could not imagine the agony her family went through when she was taken. He agrees that Pettway should be punished in a court of law.
He said, “Harlem Hospital security is second to none. I think we have to make sure no family goes through this mental anguish again. Ms. Pettway should not only get the punishment she deserves but the help she needs.”