Twenty-three years and four months after being kidnapped from a New York City hospital as a 19-day-old infant, Carlina White was reunited with her birth parents this week after playing detective on her own bizarre case for the past seven years.
"I'm overwhelmed. I'm just happy. It's like a movie; it's all brand new to me," White, 23, told New York's Daily News as she arrived in New York from Atlanta to see her birth parents.
Her mother, Joy White, was just as incredulous. "Is it really happening?" she asked. "I always dreamed this."
The reunion follows an extraordinary chain of events that began on the night of Aug. 4, 1987, when a phony nurse nabbed Carlina from Harlem Hospital and disappeared with her.
With NYPD unable to track her down, Carlina was raised in Bridgeport, Conn., under the name Nejdra Nance by a woman named Ann Pettway. Around her 16th birthday, Carlina began to believe she wasn't Pettway's daughter – which Pettway then admitted.
Carlina began surfing Web sites on missing children and last month contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. They found three possible matches, and DNA tests confirmed she was indeed the baby abducted in 1987.
Joy White didn't need those DNA tests. "As soon as I saw those pictures, I said, 'That's my daughter,' " she said. "I saw myself in her."
Carlina's father, Carl Tyson, echoed that. "I already knew in my heart that this was my daughter," he said. "All I could do was shed tears."
Police have not said whether they believe Pettway, who now lives in Georgia, was the actual abductor. Nor do they expect to press charges against anyone.
"We have our suspicion, but not enough probable cause to make an arrest," NYPD deputy commissioner Paul Browne says.