What would you do if the young child you adopted ended up being a fully developed adult and, yourself, a victim of fraud? While that might sound impossible or like the plot of the 2009 thriller movie, ‘Orphan,’ that is what Indiana couple, Kristine Barnett and her ex-husband Michael Barnett, believe happened to them.
Even more terrifying, they say that the girl they adopted also threatened to kill them. However, police do not agree that the family’s claims that their adopted daughter is an adult and has charged the Barnett’s with abandoning her when they moved to Canada. Here is what happened:
How Could an Adult Pose as a Child?
Barnett’s story began when they decided to adopt Natalia Grace. Natalia had been in the United States for two years, and her prior adopted family had given her up, without explanation to the Barnett family. Kristine and Michael only had 24 hours to complete an emergency adoption process before they would meet their “6-year-old” daughter.
The girl could not walk, which they had not known in advance until she wanted to go into the ocean at the beach. When her new parents asked her to wait, she got up and ran into the water. Her vocabulary was more advanced than girls her age, and she was not interested in toys. She opted to spend time with teenage girls over young children.
On social media, the family appeared to be a healthy, happy family with three children in addition to their adopted daughter. One of their sons has autism and received acclaim for being a genius physics prodigy, who even published academic papers as a tween.
Behind the scenes, things were much more complicated. According to Kristine Barnett’s claims to the Daily Mail, their adopted daughter “Natalia” was a “con artist” and “sociopath,” who threatened to kill them.
Kristine Barnett has said that Natalia tried to push her into an electric fence, pour bleach (or an unknown chemical) in her coffee, and said she would stab the Barnett’s in their sleep. Natalia would, according to her new mother, even draw pictures showing she wanted to kill their family and roll them up in blankets in the backyard. She would stand over them in the night, and they had to hide knives and all sharp objects.
Although it seems almost impossible, if the Barnett family is correct, the ruse their adopted daughter perpetuated may have been in motion since they first adopted Natalia, back in 2010. At that time, they were told that the girl was eight years old or as young as 6, and had spondyloepiphyseal – a form of dwarfism which also causes vision problems. As the family settled into a routine of ordinary life, it didn’t take long before Kristie noticed blood stains on her underwear and that she had pubic hair when bathing her.
After Natalia tried to push and drag her adopted mother into an electric fence, she was placed in a year-long psychiatric facility run by the state. Clinical therapists during that year of 2012 have suggested that Natalia told them she was 18.
The story gets more complicated as, in 2012, the adopted parents had Natalia’s age legally changed from 8 years old to 22 or born in 1989, not 2003. While authorities have referenced a bone density scan taken at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, which suggested Natalia was only 11 at that time, an attorney for the parents says that information proving their claims has been intentionally left out of the case.
For instance, other documents such as an Indiana University Health report made in 2016 suggest that Natalia had made a “career” out of age facade. She had adult teeth and didn’t grow at all, which even a child with dwarfism would have.
Kristine and Michael Barnett are convinced that Natalia’s mental problems also prove her age since she had a severe psychological illness only found in adults, which included her hearing voices. She acted out by smearing her bodily fluid on their home’s walls.
Since they had Natalia’s age changed to age 22, they helped her rent a year of an apartment stay, after she was discharged from the hospital. They also helped her apply for food stamps, plus a social security number and benefits. Barnett communicated with Natalia daily, she says, and planned on having her enroll in college, get a high school diploma, and study cosmetology. She even furnished Natalia’s apartment.
However, after moving to Canada so their son, Jacob, could attend a prestigious school called the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Natalia stopped answering their calls. They suspected she had quit her psych meds and might even be pretending to be a child again after Kristine saw a pink dress and bike parked by her home. They also received a letter that Michael Bennett was no longer her social security beneficiary.
Authorities launched a 5-year long investigation into Kristine and Michael Barnett and have charged them with felony neglect, though both of the adopted parents have pled “not guilty.”
Meanwhile, Natalia tried to get adopted by a new family as her guardians, which was denied after the judge reviewed medical reports and documents, plus witness statements, which suggested Natalia was 22.
While Michael Barnett has remarried and relocated, both he and Kristine will have a 2020 court date in front of a jury.
How do you feel about the above case? Were the parents negligent and trying to escape a problematic adopted child, or were they legitimately convinced Natalia is an adult? If the Barnett family was scammed, they are not alone. Catfish and scammers abound online.
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