NEW YORK—It was an abduction that made headlines and stunned the authorities: A three-week-old infant, taken to a Manhattan hospital in August 1987 for treatment of a fever, was snatched by a woman dressed in nurse’s clothes and never heard from again.
Two decades later, with investigators stumped and the case cold, the parents of the abducted girl refused to give up hope, believing that someday their daughter might return.
Their prayers were answered.
Carlina White, now 23 and living in Georgia, was reunited on Friday with her biological parents, Joy White and Carl Tyson, bringing an end to one of the most baffling missing persons cases in the New York Police Department’s files.
The reunion brought elation to a mother and father racked by pain and anger for over two decades, and a new family for a woman who had long held suspicions about her past.
On Friday, Carlina White and her biological family met for the first time since her abduction, at the Bronx home of Sheena White, an 18-year-old half-sister who until recently Carlina did not know she had.
“We spoke and got to know each other, and she looks exactly like my mom,” Sheena White said. “It felt like we knew each other before we met.”
The improbable case began Aug. 4, 1987, when Carlina, 19 days old, was taken to Harlem Hospital with a fever.
About two hours after being admitted, Carlina disappeared from a pediatrics ward, and detectives quickly narrowed in on a mysterious woman who had consoled Carlina’s worried mother and had been seen lingering around the hospital in a nurse’s uniform.
A suspect was later questioned but could not be connected to the abduction.
“We had a description, back then, of a woman who picked up the baby who acted as if she belonged there, or worked there,” Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman, said Wednesday.
“Obviously, it has been an open investigation; some leads did not work out, and obviously had not resulted in her being found.”
GIRL SUSPICIOUS OF ‘MOTHER’
Carlina was taken to Connecticut and then Georgia, the police said, raised under a different name by a woman who treated her poorly.
Carlina’s suspicions started to grow around her 16th birthday, partly “because the family and her don’t resemble each other,” Sheena White said.
Browne said, “She has held the view, for a long time, that she did not belong to the family she was living with.”
As her suspicions grew, Carlina White started to investigate, at one point visiting the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It was on that site, Browne said, where she found a photo of an infant and believed it was a photo of herself.
She then called her biological mother, Joy White, who in turn called the police, not knowing if the young woman really was her daughter.
The call was routed to Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly’s liaison unit, where Detective Martin A. Brown answered.
“She was reaching out to the NYPD because she knew the NYPD had taken a report on it and wanted to know if we could assist to match some of the DNA,” Brown said Wednesday.
Brown said White’s story “sounded very unusual and very dramatic,” and so he decided not to simply refer her to the department’s missing persons’ investigators. Rather, he called them himself to relay the details.
Those investigators eventually took DNA samples from Joy White and Carl Tyson, who separated years ago and went on to raise separate families, and checked their DNA against Carlina’s.
“The daughter’s natural instincts were confirmed with DNA swabs,” Browne said. The detectives from the original case, he added, “are elated.”
“It has always bothered them that this kid was never found,” he said.
Browne said the case was still an active criminal investigation and would not discuss or name any suspects.
“Obviously the missing-person aspect of it is closed, but the abduction part of it is not,” he said. “We have our suspicions of who may be responsible, but not enough probable cause to permit an arrest.”
Detectives got the official word of the DNA match Tuesday night.
But even before then, Carlina White and her biological family felt so strongly about their connection that they did not wait for the test results: They reunited on Friday night in the Bronx.
She could not be immediately reached for comment. On her Twitter account, she noted that she planned to move to New York City and was looking forward “to Sunday dinner.”
Her mother, who always contended that her daughter was alive and even used Carlina White’s name as her e-mail address, was overwhelmed.
“I know that she never gave up,” Sheena White said.