A couple and their adopted daughter have been the subject of headlines after speculation about her age came into question. The couple have recently plead not guilty on two counts of neglect after leaving their adopted daughter behind in the U.S while relocating to another country.
Michael and Kristine Barnett adopted Natalia Grace, whom they believed to be a six year old Ukrainian child with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, a rare type of dwarfism, in November of 2010 but claim they began to doubt their daughter was actually a minor from the first night she spent with them.
Articles online detail how the couple received a cold-call pushing the emergency adoption of a Ukrainian child, a decision they had only 24 hours to think about.
In an interview Michael Barnett describes the shock on his wife’s face as she bathed the child and instantly suspected their adopted daughter may have been a lot older than they were told she was. Barnett claimed that Natalia appeared to have already gone through puberty and was hiding her menstrual cycle from them in an attempt to appear to be a child.
A local TV report on the case stated a neighbor described the adoption process as "traumatizing” to the Barnett family and commented that the child seemed to have severe mental health issues and regularly threatened and attacked the family.
In 2012 doctors at Peyton Manning Children's hospital concluded that they believed Natalia was indeed a minor. Documented examinations reveal that professionals estimated her to be eight years old in 2010 and eleven years old in 2012.
Mr. Barnett, 43, claims that Natalia expressed a desire to kill the family and even attempted to do so. He described one occasion where she poured bleach into Kristine’s coffee cup and emotionlessly stated: “I’m trying to kill you, I want you dead”. He also recalled Natalia standing over them as they slept threatening to murder them and her sprinkling thumbtacks around the family home in the hope they or the other kids would step on them. The family also had a letter in their possession penned by the family physician that stated Natalia’s age was difficult to pin-point due to her condition. According to the unverified letter professionals later suspected that the adopted Ukrainian girl was older than she claimed. Mr. Barnett also claimed that Natalia could not speak a word of her native tongue and commented that she got angry and acted out when confronted.
In June 2012 The Barnetts legally changed their adopted daughter’s age from 6 years old to 22 years old. They filed what has been described as “an emergency petition” to legally change her age, which was passed and granted by a Marion County judge. When asked how this was achieved, Mr. Bennett refused to comment. Articles state that the Barnetts made the decision so Natalia could receive the appropriate adult mental health care.
In July 2013 the Barnetts rented an apartment in Lafayette and put down one years-worth of rent. Natalia was expected to live there alone and did so for an extended time after the Barnetts relocated to Canada. According to two neighbors Natalia was living independently and receiving care. An affidavit filed by the Tippecanoe County in Indiana states that Natalia told officials she had arrived from Ukraine to the United States in 2008 and that she had lived in Hamilton County with the Barnett family from 2010. The affidavit also states that Kristine told Natalia to tell people she “was 22 years old but looked younger”, a statement the couple claim they did not make.
The Barnetts later told reporters that they moved so their biological son, Jacob, could attend a special education program that aimed to cultivate his genius level math and physics skills. They claim they fully believed that Natalia was an adult at the time they left her behind to live independently, however the affidavit states otherwise.
Natalia made a few friends while staying at her Lafayette apartment on North 11th Street. A neighbor, Margaret Axson, described meeting her at the LARA, the Layfette adult resource academy, and said she believed Natalia was at least over 18 but no older than 30. By this point she was already legally registered as 22 years old and questions about entrance exams and how she could pass the test became a question on the minds of those following the case.
By September 2016 Natalia was no longer living in the Layfette area and had left without warning, confusing those in the local community.
In mid-2016, a couple, Antwon and Cynthia Mans, applied to be Natalia’s legal guardians, a move the Barnetts objected to. By 2018 the couple withdrew their petition.
Accused of the abandonment and neglect of their own adopted daughter and with warrants out for their arrest, the Barnetts voluntarily turned themselves over to the police and were later released on bond. They plead not guilty to the charges and maintain that Natalia is an adult posing as a child. Even if Natalia is found to be an adult the couple may still face jail time and a heavy fine, possibly five years in prison coupled $10,000 in fines as Natalia is considered a dependent. Natalia Grace has issues walking and is only 3ft tall with bone issues.
After news of the story broke Natalia’s biological mother, who is 40 years old and resides in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, spoke to the media and claimed that her daughter is a minor and is 16 years old.
Michael Barnett believes he was scammed by the Ukrainian adoption agency and claims Natalia suffers from severe mental health issues and believes her to be an adult. The case is currently ongoing.