NEW YORK (AP) — A woman who raised a child snatched from a New York hospital more than two decades ago has admitted kidnapping the baby after her own attempts to have children failed, saying in a statement she was “truly sorry,” the FBI said in court papers Monday.
Ann Pettway confessed to taking the baby in early August 1987 from Harlem Hospital during an interview Sunday after she surrendered to the FBI and Connecticut police, a criminal complaint prepared by FBI Agent Maria Johnson said. Pettway surrendered days after a widely publicized reunion between the child she raised — now 23-year-old Carlina White — and her biological mother.
Pettway said she had had difficulty having her own children in the 1980s, was dealing with the stress of trying to be a mother and had suffered several miscarriages, when she went to the hospital and saw the baby, Johnson said.
“Pettway took the victim from the victim’s family and this was totally unacceptable. Pettway is truly sorry,” Johnson said Pettway told her in a written statement Sunday.
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After taking the baby, Pettway brought her outside the hospital and, when no one stopped her, proceeded to a train and on to her home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she told friends and family members that the baby was her child, the agent said.
Prior to representing Pettway at a court hearing Monday, attorney Robert Baum said: “She feels badly. She’s very upset. She’s expressed concern about her family. But she understands the gravity of the charges.”
Baum said he did not plan to request bail for Pettway, who could face a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison or as much as life if she is convicted.
Brian Pettway, a 38-year-old cousin of Pettway who lives in Connecticut, said his cousin appeared pregnant in 1987 and disappeared, only to return with a baby the family assumed was hers. He said Pettway was a reliable, loving and trustworthy cousin.
“This is so uncharacteristic,” Brian Pettway said. “We’re all left with our mouths opened. It’s kind of like a double loss. We accepted her (Carlina White) as family. Unbeknownst to us, she was not our family.”
The Connecticut man said his cousin raised the girl “as best she could” in a crime-ridden neighborhood. He said the girl seemed happy and pleasant.
“She just raised that baby like it was her daughter, like she sat in that delivery room and gave birth to her,” Pettway said. “She never showed any signs of deceit.”
White was 19 days old when her parents took her to Harlem Hospital late on Aug. 4, 1987 with a high fever. 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 went back on Aug. 5, 1987. A police investigation failed to locate the baby.
Carlina White has been living under the name Nejdra Nance in Connecticut and in the Atlanta area. She 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.
Johnson of the FBI said in the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that a detective who interviewed the victim recounted that Pettway was quoted as saying she did not have identification for her because she had been given to Pettway by a woman who used drugs.
As the child grew up, she lived with Pettway in Pettway’s home at times and with Pettway’s mother, who also lived in Connecticut, Johnson said.
Pettway’s surrender initially came on a warrant from North Carolina, where she’s on probation because of a conviction for attempted embezzlement, FBI supervisory special agent William Reiner said.
In an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday, Tyson said he was very happy to have found his daughter.
“I have my whole puzzle. I have all my four kids now,” he said. But he admitted he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing with a 23-year-old.
“Should I be feeding her baby food?” he joked.
Tyson said he would like to ask Pettway “why she did this to me for 23 years.”
Carlina White periodically checked the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and while looking through New York photos early this month found one that looked nearly identical to her own baby picture. She contacted Joy White through the center.
White and Nance met in New York before DNA tests were complete, confident they were mother and daughter. After the test results confirmed it Wednesday, Nance returned from Atlanta to be with White again.
Johnson said Pettway during her FBI interview referred to the victim as Nejdra Nance but also sometimes referred to her as Carlina.
Pettway received two years of probation last June after she took items from a store where she worked, which is considered embezzlement under North Carolina law, state correction spokeswoman Pamela Walker said. Under terms of her probation, she wasn’t allowed to leave the state.
Department of Correction officials there tried repeatedly to contact her after finding out investigators wanted to question her in Carlina’s 1987 abduction.
North Carolina officials said Friday they believed Pettway was on the run from authorities.
Associated Press writer John Christoffersen in New Haven, Conn., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.