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Kidnapped at Birth

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Netty as a young teen (c. 2000).   

Joy tried to smooth things over. “Maybe she just feels that way because she’s just meeting us for the first time,” Carl says Joy told him. He tried his best to see Netty in the days that followed, but she spent most of her time with Joy. It wasn’t all bad: Above all, he was just happy she was alive. Still, though he didn’t want to admit it, Carl was getting angry. “I don’t want to say nothing about her. But her attitude. I’ll be honest with you—if that young lady wasn’t my daughter, she would have been out of my car a long time ago.”

By Tuesday, Netty was starting to feel homesick for Atlanta. At the airport, just before she boarded the plane, she was approached by someone she’d never seen before. “A man came up to me. He was standing next to me and said, ‘Are you Nejdra Nance?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said a detective told him to tell me to call him. And I’m like, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘We got the DNA back. It came back positive.’ ” The NYPD had been trying to reach Netty, Joy, and Carl. They were surprised to find out they were all in New York.

After getting word at the airport, Netty and Samani went ahead and boarded the plane back to Atlanta. Netty didn’t even call Carl and Joy. “If that was me, and I find out right then and there the DNA came back, and that’s my parents,” says Carl, “I wouldn’t have got on the plane.”

The next day, Carl and Joy called Netty. The news had broken. By anyone’s estimation, no child in American history had ever been missing longer before being reunited with her parents (the only case that comes close is that of Jaycee Lee Dugard, the young girl abducted and held prisoner in California for eighteen years). This was a big story. The Post wanted to fly Netty back to New York and put her up, with Carl and Joy, at the Essex House. Netty agreed to come, this time without Samani, who stayed back with Cassandra. When Netty got to the hotel, “the whole media was outside. They were booking rooms on my same floor. I couldn’t leave the room without someone seeing me. They had to lead me out the kitchen to leave the hotel.”

“You say you don’t know us? Fine. But how are you going to get to know us?”

Joy was unequivocally happy. “I always dreamed this,” she told a reporter. “Now I can sleep!” She told another, “She’s just like me. We like the same colors. We like our houses to be clean. We can’t go to sleep without the dishes being washed.”

Netty tried to be happy, too. “I feel complete,” she said. But the attention made her feel fake. “We were in front of this camera. They were telling us to kiss on the cheeks and hold hands. This ain’t even me, you know what I’m saying? We didn’t even get to do this on our own yet, so why are we doing it for these people?”

Netty found herself thinking about Ann. It wasn’t just that Ann had lied to her. She was an accused kidnapper now. The FBI was looking for her, and she was facing a federal prison sentence of twenty years to life. Ann had been living in Raleigh, North Carolina, for a few years, apparently working recently as a kitchen prep cook. News reports cited what Netty had said about Ann to paint her as abusive. When the Post reached Ann, she’d vowed to make things right. “I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m coming back to straighten this all out,” she said. “I raised her, and I was a good mom.” Then she left the state and disappeared.

When the subject of Ann came up at the Essex House, Netty grew stern, refusing to look at the police sketch from 1987 or even mention Ann by name. “When I look at [Joy], I can see me. With that other lady, I would always be searching for stuff we had in common, but I had nothing in common with her.”

“I want her to suffer,” Joy said about Ann. “I want her to do some time, like I suffered for 23 years.”

The next morning, Netty said she wanted to go home to Atlanta. Carl and Joy couldn’t believe it. “But I’m like, ‘I need to get back to my kid.’ I don’t want all the attention. I just want peace of mind.”

Back in Georgia, Netty stopped calling her newly discovered parents as often as she had been. The media kept coming after her. Netty became so anxious, she says, that when anyone would approach her she’d start to shake. She checked in to a hotel in Georgia to avoid her house.


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