The Barnetts adopted Natalia Grace of Ukraine in 2010. They were told she was six, but her vocabulary and adult teeth suggested otherwise.
An Indiana couple that believed they were scammed into adopting an adult Ukrainian with Dwarfism are now being charged with felony neglect of a child.
According to Newsweek, Kristine Barnett and her now-ex-husband Michael adopted Natalia Grace from Florida in 2010 and were told she was six years old. The girl had migrated to the United States from Ukraine two years earlier but lacked a birth certificate.
Elated at the prospect of expanding their family, the prudent couple visited several doctors to determine the girl’s age. She was originally found to be between eight and 10 years old, yet afflicted by spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia — a rare bone-growth disorder that results in dwarfism.
But Natalia soon began to exhibit odd and violent behavior including hiding her periods and threatening to kill members of the family. The Barnetts consequently came to suspect that Natalia was older than they thought and contacted their primary care physician, Dr. Andrew McLaren in 2012.
According to The Daily Mail, Dr. McLaren did find that Natalia was at least 14 years old and that she’d fooled everyone into believing she was a child.
The Barnetts consequently rented a Lafayette, North Carolina apartment for Natalia in 2013 and left her there. They moved to Canada and ceased any and all contact with the girl. The couple has since been charged with felony neglect for abandoning their adopted daughter.
Kristine Barnett, however, remains adamant that Natalia is not only a fully-fledged adult but also a dangerous sociopath. Natalia’s whereabouts — and her actual age — are currently unknown, while the Barnetts are due to stand trial.
“The media is painting me to be a child abuser,” Kristine Barnett insisted. “But there is no child here.”
Believing They Were Saving A Child
The 45-year-old mother is no stranger to difficult parenting. Her son Jake was diagnosed as autistic and it was believed he’d never master his own speech or socially interact with others. Jake would not only master his speech but would grow up to be a savant with numbers and enroll in Purdue University at the age of 12.
Barnett chronicles the steps she took to improve her son’s quality of life in her memoir, The Spark, for which the author was largely commended.
The Barnetts also had experience as foster parents, having run a children’s daycare from their Westfield, Indiana home. So in 2010, they naturally agreed to the “emergency adoption” of six-year-old Natalia Grace.
But it soon became clear to the family that Natalia had tendencies and behaviors not befitting a child.
Kristine Barnett claimed the girl would throw bloody clothes into the garbage to hide that she had a period. She noted too that the girl had adult teeth and pubic hair.
The author also claimed that Natalia had threatened to stab the family in their sleep and poured bleach in Barnett’s coffee.
“She would make statements and draw pictures saying she wanted to kill family members, roll them up in a blanket and put them in the backyard,” Barnett told DailyMailTV.
“She was standing over people in the middle of the night. You couldn’t go to sleep. We had to hide all the sharp objects.”
Additionally, Barnett claimed Natalia did not grow in the time that she lived with the family. Growth can reportedly still occur even in children with Natalia’s form of dwarfism.
Natalia was later diagnosed with a psychological illness seen mainly in adults, Barnett added.
When the Barnetts’ family physician conducted bone density tests on Natalia, the results indicated that she was at least 14 years old or older.
According to the Barnetts, the girl’s behavior only worsened as they grew more skeptical of her age.
Kristine Barnett claimed she saw Natalia attack her baby boy over the baby monitor one day. The girl would scoff at the “childish” exercises during family therapy. By 2011, Natalia was allegedly hearing voices and engaging in aberrant behavior.
“She was jumping out of moving cars,” claimed Barnett. “She was smearing blood on mirrors. She was doing things you could never imagine a little child doing.”
When the girl reportedly pushed her adopted mother against an electric fence in 2012, she was officially placed in a state-run psychiatric unit. Barnett claims Natalia admitted she was much older during that time and several clinicians proved this was so.
One therapist in January 2012 said the girl confessed to being 18. In June 2012, the staff at Larue Carter Hospital in Indianapolis said that Natalia told them how she tried to kill the Barnetts. Natalia reportedly called it “fun.”
Trouble With The Law
That same year, the Barnetts decided to take action. They managed to “correct” Natalia’s legal age to 22 through a Marion County Superior Court so that she could receive the psychiatric care she needed as an adult and be cut free from the family without repercussion.
While Kristine, Michael, and their sons Jake, West, and Ethan all moved to Canada the following summer, Natalia was left in a rented apartment in Lafayette in July.
Kristine Barnett said she paid rent for a year before the family left the country and that she helped Natalia to get a Social Security number, apply for an ID, and get food stamps.
When Natalia was evicted in 2014, police said neighbors had taken “her under their wing.”
Michael divorced his wife that same year.
It’s unclear where Natalia is now, or how old she really is, though couple Antwon and Cynthia Mans did petition to become her legal guardians in March 2016. This would require restoring Natalia’s original birth date to 2003, to which the Barnetts filed an objection.
According to Cynthia Wilson-Mans’ Facebook account, however, it certainly appears as though Natalia has joined this new family.
Nonetheless, on Sept. 11, 2019, both Kristine and Michael Barnett were charged with felony neglect. As it stands, the Barnetts are adamant they are not guilty.
“I have been cooperative the whole time,” said Kristine. “I have been truthful with people the whole time. I am being charged by the state of Indiana for crimes against a child when the state of Indiana has determined multiple times that Natalia was an adult.”
“From day one this was a mission of love. But when you bring a child into your home, you expect them to be a child. To be accused of this is unconscionable to me. It’s just horrifying.”
Kristine Barnett was released on Sept. 19 after posting a $5,500 bond, while her ex-husband was released after posting $5,000 bail. He’s set to appear in Tippecanoe Superior Court in Lafayette on Sept. 24.
Straight Out Of A Hollywood Film
The Barnett case has striking parallels to Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2009 thriller Orphan. In the movie, actress Vera Farmiga and actor Peter Sarsgaard attempt to start anew after their unborn baby dies by adopting a young girl.
The couple believes the child is a nine-year-old Russian girl named Esther. Though the age and nationality don’t quite match, the Russian girl in the movie became similarly violent.
Fortunately, the Barnett’s case has been without any of the brutality as depicted in the Hollywood horror.
As it stands, Kristine and Michael Barnett will have to prove in court that Natalia was an adult when they left her or suffer the legal consequences of abandoning a child.
Ultimately, it’s a story ripe for cinematic adaptation, except for this time, the producers could rightfully add: “Based on a true story.”
Next, read about the 11-year-old pregnant Florida girl forced to marry her rapist. Then, learn about the woman who was arrested for grilling her daughter alive.