Ann Pettway, 49, folded her hands, stared straight ahead and was silent during the five-minute court appearance. She surrendered Sunday, days after a widely publicized reunion between the child she raised - now 23-year-old Carlina White - and her biological mother.
Pettway's lawyer, Robert Baum, said beforehand: "She feels badly. She's very upset. She's expressed concern about her family. But she understands the gravity of the charges."
Pettway, of Raleigh, N.C., earlier confessed to taking the baby in early August 1987 from Harlem Hospital during an interview after she surrendered to the FBI and Bridgeport, Conn., police, FBI agent Maria Johnson said in a criminal complaint.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein ordered Pettway detained Monday after Baum said no bail application would immediately be made. Because there is no indictment, no plea was necessary. She could face a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison or as much as life if she is convicted.
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, the FBI 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.
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, Conn., where she told friends and family members that the baby was her child, the agent said.
"Pettway is sorry and knows that she has caused a lot of pain," Johnson wrote.
Asked about the FBI confession, Baum said: "Obviously it's alleged she made statements. We need to take a good look at the circumstances surrounding those statements."
Brian Pettway, a 38-year-old cousin of Pettway who lives in New Haven, Conn., 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, one of his favorites.
"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 (White) as family. Unbeknownst to us, she was not our family."
Brian Pettway said his cousin raised White "as best she could" in a crime-ridden neighborhood. He said White 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 said in the complaint 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 Bridgeport, 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.
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.