At least one cousin has said that relatives would speculate behind Ann’s and Netty’s back about the child’s looks. Ann was dark-skinned, and Netty was light. Netty remembers gazing at pictures of Ann to see if the two of them looked the least bit alike. “Everybody called me Little Ann,” she says. “But I didn’t see a resemblance.”
The night Ann told Netty she wasn’t her mother, “my whole stomach just turned up,” she says, “like, ‘What are you saying? What the hell are you talking about? This is not my family? That’s not my grandmother downstairs?’ ” Netty asked who her mother was and where she came from. Had Ann met the woman, or was Netty left on the doorstep? Why didn’t Ann take Netty to the police or a hospital? Why didn’t she ever tell Netty?
With each question, Ann repeated the same answer. She left you and never came back. There was nothing more to it, she insisted. “No names, no nothing.” For weeks, Netty kept asking, but “it would never go nowhere. Even when a year passed by, I was like, ‘You don’t remember nothing?’ ‘No.’ ” Netty and Ann stopped discussing the matter with each other and told no one else about it. But Netty was still curious. She had trouble believing that she had just fallen into her mother’s lap. Her suspicions grew, and she and Ann became more distant. Her relatives had said that Ann was pregnant in the summer of 1987. Was she really pregnant? Did she miscarry? Just before a stranger handed her a baby?
Netty asked her Department of Children and Families caseworker if her DNA could be cross-referenced with some DNA database of missing children. “That’s TV stuff,” the caseworker said. Robert Nance, who was in jail at the time on a rape charge, called Netty after a DCF investigator visited him. Netty asked what he knew about her mother. He and Ann weren’t together by the time Netty was born, he said. If Netty really wasn’t his and Ann’s, he said, he wouldn’t have known.
Samani was born in 2005. Netty got her high-school diploma, took a job as a motel-desk clerk, and, when Samani turned 1, moved to her own place; then, two years ago, she moved to Atlanta, where her aunt Cassandra had moved a few years earlier. She found work in a hair salon, tried a little modeling, and still harbored dreams of being a rapper. Ann sent cards and gifts to Samani. Eventually, Netty told Cassandra her secret, and Cassandra encouraged her to keep searching for her birth mother. Late at night, Netty would find herself trolling the Internet for stories of missing children. “Missing child 1987,” she’d type, sometimes adding “Connecticut” or “New Haven.” She never turned up anything. “I’d look at the picture, but it wouldn’t be a child that’s my color. There would be no resemblance.”
Then, last December, Netty went to the website for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The site showed pictures of hundreds of kids from all over the country. For the first time, it dawned on Netty that she could have come from anywhere, not just near Bridgeport. She combed through the photo archive. She saw a picture of a baby girl—a newborn who was just 19 days old when she vanished on August 4, 1987.
Netty dragged the photo to her desktop and saved it. The baby’s face reminded her of Samani. And Samani, everyone told Netty, looked just like her.
Three days before Christmas last year, Netty called the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s hotline. “I feel like I don’t know who I am,” she said. She didn’t mention the photo of the baby. At one point she was so overwhelmed she put Cassandra on the phone. “She was agitated,” says the center’s president, Ernie Allen. “She talked about how she’d been trying to get information about her identity for five years. My sense was this was almost a call of desperation.” In that first call, Allen says, Netty also revealed her suspicions about Ann. “She said she believed the woman known to her as her mother abducted her near the time of her birth.”
Netty had trouble with even basic questions. “I guess I’m African-American,” she said—but how could she know for sure? It was Cassandra who reminded Netty of a birthmark on her right arm, a detail the center was able to cross-reference with its records of missing children. We ultimately narrowed the search to two cases,” Allen says, “and one of those was Carlina White.” The forensic unit compared Netty’s baby pictures with the photo of Carlina at 19 days old, Allen says, and they appeared to be a match. “There was nothing to suggest this was not Carlina.” Tellingly, the birthmark, too, appeared to be in the same place.