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Kidnapped newborn finds family 24 years later

US woman solves her own baby kidnap case?

One of New York's most baffling cases that began with the disappearance of a 19-day-old infant from a Harlem hospital 24 years ago seems finally to have been solved — by the victim herself.

Astonishment has given way to ecstasy for Joy White, the mother who made headlines across the city on August 5, 1987. The day before, she had taken her then baby girl Carlina to the hospital with a high temperature. She left the ward for two hours only to find on her return that the cot her child had been in was empty.

With no credible leads and in spite of an offer of a $10,000 (£6,286) reward for anyone providing information leading to an arrest, efforts by the police to trace Carlina petered out.

Members of the distraught White family said at the time they had seen a woman in a nurse's uniform near where Carlina had been left and suggested she may have been responsible for spiriting her away.

But now it is Carlina herself who, with some internet sleuthing, has brought the agony of the lost years to an end, identifying Ms White as her birth mother and rushing to New York to be reunited with her.

“Carlina was a missing link and we have gotten her back in the name of Jesus, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah,” Pat Conway, White's godmother, said after Carlina flew from Georgia, where she has been living, to New York and into the arms of the extended White clan.

Now 24 years old, Carlina was raised as Nejdre Nance in Bridgeport, Connecticut, an hour northeast of New York, and after that in Georgia. She has told police investigators that she had long harboured doubts about the woman who purported to be her mother, if only because they didn't look alike. Her concern deepened when she had her own baby and no-one could give her papers like her own birth certificate.

“Nejdra Nance was very suspicious of who she was and what family raised her,” said police Lieutenant Christopher Zimmerman. “There was no paperwork to follow her such as a birth certificate or social security card. In her late teens she became suspicious of who she was.”

At one point in her late teens she even wrote to Oprah Winfrey, the US TV presenter, asking for help in establishing her true identity. It was the internet that eventually provided the key to resolving the mystery of her identity and, in particular, the website of a group called The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. Looking at pictures from missing baby cases that matched her own age she soon saw a photograph that looked very much like others she had seen of herself as a baby. She was looking at Carlina White. Or rather at herself.

It was with help from the centre that she was then able to trace her real mother, separated nowadays from her father, in New York. She travelled to see them for a first time last weekend before returning to Georgia. After DNA tests confirmed on Tuesday what she already knew in her heart, she flew back to New York again on Wednesday.

“I'm overwhelmed. I'm just happy. It's like a movie; it's all brand new to me,” she said after emerging from La Guardia airport. As the second meeting with her daughter got under way Joy, Carlina's birth mother, could only say: “Is it really happening? I always dreamed this.”

The woman who raised her, first in Connecticut and then Georgia, was identified as Cassandra Pettway.

The police have not said if they plan to lay charges in the case or even if they are certain that it was Ms Pettway who took the baby.

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