Almost every adopted child will eventually want to know where they came from. It’s a tough conversation to have, but it’s one that is very necessary. For Steven Carter Jr., these questions about his roots were becoming very frequent.
He didn’t think that his life story was very special, but he quickly found that he was wrong. He knew there had to be something behind the fact that his birth certificate wasn’t even issued until a year after his supposed birth date. All his questions would be answered after some thorough self-investigation.
The Story That Changed His Life
It was a typical work day in 2011 for the Philadelphia native, Steve Carter Jr. He was working his day job as a medical software salesman when he was scrolling through his phone and landed on some breaking news that would change his life.
It was about a unique missing persons case involving an Atlanta woman named Carlina White who had gone missing after being kidnapped at birth. Steve couldn’t get enough of this story.
It Started In The Harlem Hospital
Let’s take a little dive into Carlina White’s story, the story that would indirectly change Steven Carter Jr.’s life forever.
Her story started at this hospital in Harlem. Carlina was 19 days old when her parents, Joy White and Carl Tyson, took her to the hospital because she had a fever. It was 1987, and Carlina had swallowed fluid during her delivery which resulted in a horrible infection for the newborn.
The Nurse, Who Wasn’t A Nurse
White’s parents never could have imagined what happened while their baby was getting taken care of overnight at the hospital. A woman dressed as a nurse had comforted them at the hospital for a week straight.
This woman, who wasn’t a nurse, had been seen walking around the hospital for three weeks prior to Carlina going missing. This woman was dressed very similarly to a nurse, so at the time, it didn’t really raise any alarm bells.
“The Woman In White”
Carlina disappeared at 2 in the morning when the shifts were changing. There was video surveillance but it wasn’t working. The only description of the woman that authorities had was that given by Joy White, Carlina’s mom, who had been comforted by her.
Security said that a woman matching the description had been seen leaving the facility at 3:30 am but wasn’t with a child. It was officially the first case of a baby abduction from a New York hospital.
She Grew Up In A Lie
Carlina wouldn’t be found by her biological parents until 23 years later. She was living as Nejdra Nance in Connecticut just 45 miles from where her parents lived.
She lived with a woman named Ann Pettaway. By the time that Carlina was a teenager, she began to become suspicious that Pettaway wasn’t her biological mom. After a little dispute about forging documents, like a birth certificate so that White could get health insurance, she asked Pettaway if she was actually her mom.
She Made A Startling Discovery
Pettaway broke down and said that she wasn’t. Carlina was told that she was abandoned by drug addict parents, which piqued White’s curiosity even more. She went to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website and found images of the kidnapped Carlina (herself) who looked a lot like her.
Carlina called the center’s hotline and was able to contact her birth parents. At this point, she was 23 years old and very happy to be reunited with her family.
Pettway Was Sentenced
After the confirmation that Nejdra Nance was actually Carlina White, the FBI started looking for Ann Pettway. She ended up turning herself into the FBI in 2011 after she had made arrangements for her biological son to be taken care of.
In 2012, as part of a plea bargain, the judge sentenced Pettway to 12 years in prison. She will be set to be free when she is 62 years old.
After she was reunited with her biological parents, Carlina’s attorneys asked them about the $750,000 settlement that her parents got from the hospital.
They said that they had already spent the money and that a trust fund had been created but was only obtainable if she was found before the age of 21. Carlina’s mom says that they no longer talk because of the money issue. She was also portrayed by Keke Palmer in the Lifetime film Abducted: The Carlina White Story.
What Steven Understood
It was Carlina’s story that had Steve Carter Jr. very interested in his own past after he was adopted. His confusing story began in the humid tropics of the Hawaiian islands.
Carter didn’t know much about the first years of his life, but he knew that he had been born as Tenzin Amea in 1977. He was told that he had been given up for adoption as a very young baby.
Life Wasn’t Too Bad At The Orphanage
He had been in the care of the state at an orphanage, and later in foster care on the island of Oahu, since he was a few months old. He does remember that life at the orphanage wasn’t actually all that terrible.
Little Tenzin wanted what every little kid wants — love. He had never known what it was like to have a ‘normal’ family. He began to love a woman named Caridad Balcita who worked at the orphanage.
The Right Parents At The Right Time
Caridad Balcita would talk about how good of a kid he really was. She was so excited to see him leave with a good family in 1980. Steve Carter Sr. was an army officer who happened to be stationed in Hawaii at the time.
He and his wife Pat were in a stable enough time in their lives to take their relationship to the next level. For them, it was adopting a child.
It Was Official, He Was Now A Carter
When Pat and Steve entered the Oahu orphanage, they stumbled across a three-and-a-half-year-old boy who caught their eye right away. There were other cute kids hanging around, but the two of them felt a connection with this one.
His name was Tenzin Amea. They decided to make their adoption official in 1980 and turned in the necessary paperwork. They had been told that Tenzin was half Hawaiian, which was confusing, to say the least.
Something Wasn’t Adding Up
There was nothing Hawaiian about him. He had blonde hair and blue eyes which seemed to really contradict anything Steve and Pat were being told about their new son.
They weren’t exactly sure how he got into the system in the first place, but at the end of the day, it didn’t make a difference in their attempt to make his life the best it could possibly be going forward.
He Had A Great Childhood
When they welcomed their new boy into their family, they renamed him Steve Carter Jr. They didn’t want to throw away his past, so they made Tenzin one of his middle names to honor his full identity.
They moved to a very nice neighborhood in New Jersey and Steve Jr. was able to live a very privileged life. In fact, he was able to do a lot of stuff that other kids could only dream of.
A Lot Of “Maybes”
It was believed that Steven’s birth father was ethnically Hawaiian, but that was literally all of the information that they ended up getting. The fact that he was from the island, but looked nothing like a native of Hawaii, was a running joke in their family.
Adoptive parents sometimes struggle to explain their child’s status as being adopted, but not Pat and Steve. They celebrated their son’s uniqueness by holding a celebration every year on the day that they adopted him.
“Came To Be Our Boy Day”
They dubbed the holiday “Came To Be Our Boy Day” which allowed them to not shy away from talking about his adoption. They had no idea the true story behind how Steven became an orphan.
The entire birth certificate not being issued until a year after his birth was very odd. By the time Steven got older, he wanted to know the details, which is very normal for an adopted child.
Discovering The Mystery Of His Past
Thankfully, by the time that Steven grew up, DNA testing and genetic technology were finally up to speed with his thirst for knowledge. He had gotten married and was in his 30s when his parents gave him a DNA testing kit for Christmas.
Receiving the results would be the first piece that would lead him towards discovering the mystery of his past. The first thing that he was able to find out was that he had Scandinavian roots.
The Tip Of The Iceberg
That discovery wasn’t too shocking considering he was blonde and had blue eyes. What made him even more curious was that he wasn’t a native Hawaiian at all, which is what he thought at first.
This was merely the tip of the iceberg and it was only going to get more dramatic. It was after the DNA test that Steven saw the Carlina story many years later while taking a break from work.
The Search Really Began
He didn’t think that something as dramatic as the Carlina story could happen to him, but he went on the same missing kids’ database that she did later that night.
He entered his birth date and narrowed down the search by looking for people specifically in Hawaii. He looked for his birth name, and when he scanned the page he couldn’t believe what he saw. It sent shivers down his spine.
The Sketch That Started It All
He couldn’t find his birth name (or what he thought it was), Tenzin Amea, but he did find someone named Marx Panama Moriarty-Barnes. It was a mouthful, but this boy had been missing since 1977.
The details of this little boy’s case matched up perfectly with Steven’s own arrival at the orphanage. Steven’s heart basically stopped when he saw an artist’s rendition of what the little boy should look like 30 years later.
The Chills Were Settling In
It looked almost identical to what Steven had looked like. It was as though his eyes were playing tricks on him. He was literally looking at himself in the mirror.
He had chills all over, and the whole thing was becoming very bizarre and emotional for him. He sent off the picture to a few friends to help calm him down. He refused to believe that his life was this interesting or crazy.
He Called The Police Department
He sent the picture to his mom and wife and they encouraged him to look for more answers. He was merely acting on a hunch, but he called the Honolulu Police Department to corroborate the details of the missing person named Marx.
The police gave Steven the benefit of the doubt and gave him a DNA test despite the lead coming three decades after the disappearance. He had to wait eight months for the results.
Who Is Baby Marx?
The pieces started coming together. Vietnam veteran Mark Barnes, a native of Santa Cruz, California, was working in Hawaii at the time as a journalist. He and his girlfriend, Charlotte Moriarty, were living there with their baby Marx.
One day, Charlotte said she was going for a walk with the baby and never came home. The disappearance came out of the blue and after three weeks Mark finally involved the police by reporting the pair.
They Changed Identities
There were no motives or information that led to any clues as to where they went. But, it became clear that Charlotte took the baby across the state and changed her and her baby’s name. That’s when Marx became Tenzin Amea.
Charlotte was taken into a psychiatric hospital when Tenzin was just six months old. Neither the staff nor the police were any the wiser about the fact that he was actually a missing person.
They Never Gave Up
Tenzin’s dad was still living on the island and had no clue that his child was in an orphanage just miles away. It was Mark (Tenzin’s dad’s) oldest daughter who forced the authorities to reopen the missing persons case, which is why there was an up-to-date 30-year-old sketch.
Without realizing it, the fact that Marx’s family didn’t give up after 20 years was the reason that Steven saw the picture.
The Final Link
When the DNA test results came back, it was the final link to the missing persons’ case. Steven Carter Jr. was, in fact, born Marx Panama Barnes-Moriarty.
As it turned out, he was a missing person for his entire life. After news broke out, it spread like wildfire, and rightly so. The chances of a three-decade-old missing persons’ case almost never end out in a positive way, but this one defied the odds.
It Would Take Some Time To Process
For Steven, the information was a lot to swallow and process. He didn’t really know what to make of it. His parents, Pat and Steve, also took the news quite hard. They felt guilty for learning that their baby was actually a missing person.
They felt like they had taken away someone else’s child. It was kind of unclear as to whether Steven was even willing to meet up with his biological family.
He Called His Biological Sister
After several months of trying to process the entire story, he felt like it was finally time. He picked up the phone and made the first contact with the family — his older half-sister Jennifer, who was the one who never gave up hope.
The two talked for hours and hours on the phone and both of them were elated. Then, Steven called up his biological dad, Mark Barnes, who was living in California with two other daughters.
The Moment Was Breathtaking
The phone call took Mark’s breath away. Mr. Barnes had no idea where Charlotte was, and he figured that she went and raised Marx by herself. To this day, Steven still doesn’t have any contact with her.
There are a lot of questions that Steven has for his mom and dad. Like, what had possessed Charlotte to take him across the state and live under fake names? It’s a question that he may never know to answer to.
He Put The Pieces Together
The whole saga and life of Steven Jr. was truly incredible and unique. He still cannot believe all the pieces that had to fall together to get to this point. There were the DNA tests to the Carlina White story that ended up being eerily similar, to the 30-year-old sketch that looked exactly like him.
The whole thing is just bizarre. Regardless, Steve had just solved one of the longest-running missing child cases in American history completely by accident.