Indianapolis, IN – A couple has been charged with neglect after police say they abandoned the daughter they adopted from the Ukraine, but the family who left the girl behind said the child is actually an adult in at least her 20s who fooled them.
Michael and Kristine Barnett, who have since divorced, took in the little girl in 2010 when the family who initially adopted her from the Ukraine gave her up, WLS reported.
The little girl, whose name is Natalia, suffers from a rare form of dwarfism - spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital – which causes skeletal abnormalities and can result in hearing or vision loss, USA Today reported.
Natalia was supposed to have been eight years old when she was adopted by the Barnetts, but there were aspects of her behavior that quickly made the couple ask questions.
Not long after she moved in, Kristine caught the child dosing her coffee with Pine Sol and confronted her, USA Today reported.
“It was a plain and simple, matter-of-fact answer. A very thought-out adult answer. ‘I’m trying to kill you,’” Michael said.
The Barnetts took Natalia to the hospital where she was evaluated at the stress center, USA Today reported.
“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 explained.
He also said that "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,” WLS reported.
Shortly thereafter, Kristine discovered that Natalia was having her period and the girl admitted having one, raising more questions about her real age.
Then Michael said Natalia tried to kill Kristine again, WLS reported.
"She had attempted to kill my wife for the second time, this time by trying to pull her into an electric fence," he said.
"We were told by doctors, 'This person is a sociopath. This person is a con artist. You are all in danger,'" Michael said.
The Barnetts tried to press charges against Natalia but instead, officials pushed her into the healthcare system, WLS reported.
Michael said that doctors, testing, and a court ruling convinced them that the little girl was 14 years older than they believed her to be when she was adopted.
"In 2012, based on 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," the father explained.
In other words, her Ukrainian birth certificate would make Natalia now 16, but the court’s ruling legally makes her 30 and an adult, WLS reported.
In the meantime, the Barnetts autistic eldest son, Jacob, had developed into a child prodigy and was invited to earn his doctorate degree at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, USA Today reported.
So the family packed up and moved north to support Jacob’s education in 2013.
“It was a big move for our family and one that we knew was coming for Jacob,” Kristine Barnett said at the time. “We knew Jacob would exhaust the curriculum in Indiana, and we knew that he would need to go to another school one day. We love Indiana, and Indiana will always be a big part of us in our hearts.”
But when they moved, they didn’t take Natalia with them.
Instead they rented a Lafayette apartment for the girl and enrolled her in the Lafayette Adult Resource Academy, USA Today reported.
Michael said they continued to pay Natalia’s rent but did not provide money for living expenses.
Both of the Barnetts have been charged with neglect, including endangering a dependent's life, and abandoning or cruelly confining a dependent, WLS reported.
Both Michael and Kristine turned themselves in to authorities and were bonded out of jail, USA Today reported.
They both claim they only left the girl behind because they say she is an adult.
The couple pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial on Jan. 28, 2020, USA Today reported.