NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Carlina White, just weeks after she was born, was taken from her young parents in Harlem Hospital by a mysterious woman dressed in a nurse's uniform. Almost 23 years later she and her parents, Joy White and Carl Tyson, have been reunited.
The NYPD Missing Person Squad worked the case for 23 years. They say they never quit hoping the three-week-old girl, stolen from her teenage mother, would someday be brought back home, but the chances were slim.
What broke the case was a young woman who knew something wasn't right, reports CBS 2's Don Dahler.
1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria with Det. Martin Brown
WCBS 880 Reporter Marla Diamond talks with police about the kidnapping cold case and the happy ending
In 1987, 19-day-old Carlina White was snatched from Harlem Hospital by a woman pretending to be a nurse. Her parents, Joy White and Carl Tyson, were inconsolable.
"Just give me my baby back! Please! I want her back now. Just want her back," Joy said after the kidnapping.
More than two decades later, it turns out the person who gave White her daughter back was Carlina herself.
Even after the initial flurry of activity, the police searched for years – but as time went by, so did their chances of solving the case.
"You can never quit," Lieutenant Christopher Zimmerman said. "As long as they're still missing, you've still got to look for them."
The family spoke with the New York Post after their joyous reunion.
"When I lost my daughter, oh my God, that was just like a big part of my heart just ripped apart," Tyson said.
White told relatives she was taken to Connecticut and raised under the name Nejdra Nance in an abusive home by a woman identified by police sources as Mary Pettway.
When Carlina was sixteen, though, she began to wonder if the woman raising her was her real mother. The two bore little resemblance and the woman couldn't give Carlina important documents.
"Around when she was 16 or 17, she wanted to work and she wanted to get a driver's license – and there was no supporting paperwork, like a birth certificate or Social Security card, to help her with that," Lt. Zimmerman said.
Eventually Carlina, who was now living in Atlanta, called the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They told her to look at the photos of missing kids on their Web site, and one picture in particular jumped out at her.
"She finds the photo of Carlina White, and at that point she takes out her own baby photo that she has possession of," Lt. Zimmerman said. "She compares them – looks like the same person."
The center put Carlina in touch with Joy White, and they compared photos. To be sure, though, Joy called the NYPD, where she reached Detective Martin Brown.
"A woman calls and she's very excited on the phone, describes that she had just been contacted recently by someone living in Atlanta claiming that she was her long lost daughter from 23 years ago," Det. Brown said.
The NYPD then took DNA samples of Joy, Carl, and the woman who suspected she was their daughter. To everyone's joy, the samples came back positive.
"You can't measure that – taking a family that hasn't been together in 23 years and telling them, 'yeah, by the way, you are related,'" Lt. Zimmerman said. "Everybody was happy."
"It's incredible," Det. Brown said.
Carlina said seeing her real mother for the first time felt like a dream. When she looks at her, she says, she can see herself.
Carlina has a six-year-old daughter who met her real grandparents for the first time this past weekend.
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