After a couple adopted a little girl, who they believed was 6 years old, red flags started to pop up, leading them to suspect she was much older. They were charged with felony neglect after abandoning their daughter, but they’re adamant they were scammed into adopting a grown woman, who’s really 30 years old.
When Michael and Kristine Barnett adopted Natalia Grace, Michael says they were told she was from Ukraine, had a rare form of dwarfism, and was only 6 years old, Inside Edition reported. After welcoming her into their home, however, many signs indicated that they had been duped into adopting an adult. First, Natalia had an advanced vocabulary, especially for a child who was allegedly born in another country. She didn’t have a detectable accent and never spoke a single Ukrainian word. In fact, she couldn’t even recognize Ukrainian words.
Then, Michael and Kristine Barnett discovered the allegedly 6-year-old girl had already begun menstruating and was trying desperately to hide it. She also had pubic hair, but that would soon be the least of their worries. Although they’ve since divorced, Michael alleges that Natalia tried to kill Kristine — twice. After she was caught pouring cleaning fluid into Kristine’s coffee, Natalia admitted that she wanted to kill her new mother when she was confronted, Michael says.
“It was a plain and simple, matter-of-fact answer. A very thought-out adult answer. ‘I’m trying to kill you,'” Michael Barnett recalled. He also alleges that Natalia tried to shove Kristine into an electrified fence and said she wanted to kill the entire family, including Michael and Kristine’s three sons, saying she would stab them to death while they slept. The couple tried to press charges against her, but instead, Natalia was pushed into a hospital system.
“While at the stress center, she was documenting, she was telling doctors, she was telling therapists, she was writing down on her notepad. Not only am I trying to kill Kristine, but I’m going to kill the brothers, too. Here’s how I’m going to do it. Here’s what I’m going to do with their bodies,” Michael Barnett said, according to USA Today.
Three years after adopting Natalia, Michael and Kristine decided to move to Canada so their son Jacob, a child prodigy with mild autism, could pursue college studies. Jacob had made national headlines as a physics genius, and his accomplishments prompted a “60 Minutes” segment and a front-page story in the Indianapolis Star. He also received an invitation to give his own TED talk, and his mother wrote “The Spark,” a book about raising a child genius.
But, as the family prepared to move in order for Jacob to work towards a doctorate degree at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, there was still the issue of Natalia. Fearing for their family’s safety, the Barnetts didn’t want to take her with them. Instead, they prepaid the rent on an apartment for her, signed her up for social welfare programs, and left her behind in Indiana, believing she was an adult capable of taking care of herself.
The year prior to the Barnetts moving, Natalia’s birth year was legally changed after Michael says doctors and testing led the court to believe she was actually born in 1989, not 2003. “Based on [the] evidence presented to the court, the Marion County Superior Court ruled that her birth year would be changed from 2003 to 1989, effectively changing her from eight to 22 years old,” Michael said, adding that they hoped the change would lead to Natalia receiving help for the mental illness they suspected she had. “Once her age was corrected, she was going to be admitted into (an inpatient facility),” he said, according to Journal & Courier.
However, that wasn’t good enough for the authorities. Six years after their move, both Michael and Kristine Barnett were charged with felony neglect of a dependent for abandoning Natalia Grace, who had since moved in with another family in Indiana, where she’s treated as a teenager. The Barnetts, however, are adamant that she’s not a child and wasn’t one when they adopted her, let alone when they left her behind.
The Barnetts claim that from the moment they took Natalia in, she’s always been an adult woman, posing as a little girl, but that’s not all. “We were told by doctors, ‘This person is a sociopath. This person is a con artist. You are all in danger,'” Michael Barnett explained, according to ABC 7. “Natalia would do things like place clear thumbtacks on the stairs face up so that when we would walk up the stairs we would be stepping on thumbtacks to pain and injure ourselves,” he added.
Although her legal age is 30, it’s still unclear exactly how old Natalia is. Based on the Ukrainian Birth Certificate given to the Barnetts when Natalia was adopted, she would be about 16. If the court system’s decision to change her birth year was accurate, however, she’s around 30. Regardless, law enforcement officials allege the Barnetts believed Natalia was a minor when they moved to Canada, which resulted in the charges of neglect, including endangering a dependent’s life and abandoning or cruelly confining a dependent.
While an attorney representing the daughter alleges that the Barnetts turned Natalia into an adult to justify abandoning her, Michael’s attorney says otherwise. “He is a pillar of his community. He has a big heart. He thought he was doing the right thing 10 years ago when he took someone into his home,” Terrance Kinnard said. Both parents pleaded not guilty.
“There was no running to Canada,” Michael Barnett said. While it’s impossible to know the Barnetts’ true motivation for legally changing Natalia’s birth year, the fact remains that the court allowed it. This means that, legally, she was in her 20’s when they left her in Indiana. Although the story is complex and compelling, the bottom line is that she wasn’t a minor, legally. If she was one biologically, doesn’t the fault lie with the court that changed her age? You decide.