There isn’t much that gets me out of bed these days. Three cups of coffee shot directly into the vein? Meh. HR’s threats of “immediate action” should I be late for the 10th time this month? Don’t tempt me with a good time, Karen. What does get me going, you may ask? A scandalous news story about a wholesome midwestern family finding out their adopted Ukrainian daughter is actually a woman in her 20s posing as a 6-year-old child with dwarfism. Now THAT I’ll get out of bed for. So buckle up, kids, it’s time to gather ‘round for a story more convoluted and insane than a Riverdale plotline (and as the former weekly recapper, just know that I had to sit through the showrunners try and explain how the local Riverdale cult was just a front for an underground blackmarket human body parts trade).
The story was originally published in The Daily Mail UK earlier this week and it is… a lot to take in. The article claims that famed parenting author and motivational speaker Kristine Barnett and her now ex-husband Michael Barnett have been charged with neglect after leaving their 11-year-old daughter Natalia to fend for herself in their apartment when they moved to Canada. Sounds terrible. Like, let’s get ADA Barba and the Special Victims Unit on this ASAP. However, the Barnetts are claiming that it’s not neglect because Natalia is not a child, but in fact a “mentally disturbed adult posing as a child” who has threatened to kill them before.
In order to truly appreciate the masterpiece that was this Daily Mail article, we need to go back to the beginning. First, a little backstory on the Barnetts: Kristine rose to moderate fame in the mid 2000s when she wrote a book about raising her genius physics prodigy son, Jacob, who has Autism. The couple even appeared on 60 Minutes back in 2012 to talk about Jacob’s success story. So, like, it’s a little ironic that Kristine, a woman who has probably been humble bragging about her parenting skills to her book club for longer than The Office was on the air, is now being charged with parental neglect. I bet her friends are having a hell of a time in their group chat.
In 2010, the couple adopts Natalia, who, as far as they know, is a 6-year-old girl living with a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia. Natalia had been living in the U.S. for two years, had a Ukraine birth certificate saying she was born in September of 2003, and needed a home ASAP because her previous adoptive parents “suddenly gave her up for undisclosed reasons.” This is the same excuse I give whenever someone asks if I’m still on my diet, but somehow it doesn’t feel legit enough for adoptive parents to use as an excuse to return A LITERAL CHILD, but okay.
Soon after the adoption, Kristine says she realized Natalia could not actually be the age she was claimed to be. First off, she claims Natalia was speaking with a sophisticated vocabulary beyond that of a typical 6-year-old’s. As I don’t associate with children I’m not quite sure what that means, but I’m going to assume that little Natalia was only speaking to the Barnetts via Mean Girls quotes and Cardi B rap lyrics.
Moving on. The couple claims there were also physical signs that Natalia was older. She supposedly had adult teeth, didn’t grow one inch in the years they had her in their care, had a period (!!!), and they discovered a full bush on her the first time they gave her a bath. According to The Daily Mail, Natalia also “shunned dolls and toys and sought the company of teenage girls.” (I stand by my earlier Cardi B comment).
During this same time Kristine claims Natalia was terrorizing the family by threatening to stab them in their sleep. (And that’s not even a part I am exaggerating for effect!) At one point, Kristine claims she even tried to pour bleach in their coffee because she wanted to “poison them” and shoved Kristine into an electric fence. To be fair, if my adoptive mother was making this big a deal about my period I would also react this way.
In an interview Kristine said of Natalia: “She was jumping out of moving cars. She was smearing blood on mirrors. She was doing things you could never imagine a little child doing.” These allegations, if true, are alarming. If not true, then just stolen from The CW writer’s room notes on the Gargoyle King character attributes.
The Barnetts checked Natalia into a psychiatric hospital where Natalia was diagnosed with various psychiatric disorders. Health professionals at the facility even say Natalia herself admitted to being 18 years old.
Kristine had the family doctor run bone density tests on Natalia to see if she was actually a small child or a much older sociopath posing as a child. I’m hoping that is exactly how she phrased it when she approached her family doctor. Boy, to be a fly on the wall during that doctor’s visit. According to the Barnetts, the doctor concluded that Natalia was actually closer to 14 years old, if not older. This feels suspicious to me because presumably these tests took place sometime after 2010 so modern science and technologies were available for said test, and yet, the most accurate data they could ascertain was that she’s “probably 14.” K.
In 2012, after it’s confirmed that Natalia is not six years old but, like, maybe might be 14 or something, the police start investing Natalia for immigration fraud. The Barnetts, meanwhile, successfully applied to the Indiana courts to have Natalia’s age corrected so she could receive the appropriate psychiatric treatment for an adult, and a judge actually revised Natalia’s date of birth to September 4, 1989, effectively changing her age from EIGHT TO TWENTY-TWO. Okay, but like, where did they get that number from?? The doctor confirmed she was maybe 14 and if my basic math calculations are correct that number is nowhere near 22. A birthday is not like the weight you list on the doctor’s forms. You can’t just make it up!
Kristine says she and her family then set Natalia up in her own apartment, which they paid for, and helped her get benefits and a social security card. The family moved to Canada in 2013 so Jacob could attend a school in Canada, and they say Natalia stopped returning their messages and they lost contact. When Kristine found a pink dress and a little pink bicycle at Natalia’s house, she feared she was conning another family.
Which brings us to today. According to a probable cause affidavit obtained by NBC News, the Indiana police started getting involved in the case around September 2014 when Natalia told authorities the Barnetts rented her apartment in Lafayette. When the police interviewed Michael Barnett about the case earlier this month, he said that Natalia was actually a minor when they legally changed her age to 22 and that Kristine coerced her into telling people that she just looked young for her age. Michael is now saying those comments were taken out of context. Keep in mind the timing of all of this: If the police actually received Natalia’s complaint in 2014 then that means they waited five years to investigate her claims. This feels extremely suspicious to me. What’s with the hold up here? Why has it taken half a decade to investigate a minor’s claim that she was abandoned while her family moved to Canada?
BUT Y’ALL. It gets even weirder because an expert at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital named Dr. Riggs came forward as the man who carried out the bone density tests on Natalia in June 2010 and concluded THAT SHE WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD. You guys, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!
WHAT. IS. THE. TRUTH. INDEED. A further skeletal test carried out two years later, at the same facility, concluded she was around 11 years old, and I still don’t understand how not one medical test in the year 2011 cannot definitively tell us a girl’s age.
The Barnetts have since been arrested and charged with neglect. They’re still holding true to their story, but I don’t know what to believe anymore. For one, some of their arguments regarding Natalia’s age are flimsy at best. Though Natalia may have been physically mature for a 6-year-old, that doesn’t mean she actually wasn’t her age. I went through puberty in second grade and had a full rack and acne by 8, so WHAT’S YOUR POINT, KRISTINE. The Barnetts also claimed that when they asked Natalia about her time in the Ukraine she gave the same answer Mariah Carey gave about knowing J.Lo, and couldn’t recall any specific details about her homeland. She also could not speak the language.
Again, if Natalia is the age she says she is, that means she was four when she left the Ukraine so, like, how great would her memory really be? I think it’s a little much to be quizzing her on Ukraine’s country flag or history. Then there’s the police work. If Olivia Benson thought an underage girl had been abandoned by her family she would have the entire Manhattan police force fly out to Indiana to investigate this case, and you’re telling me it took local PD five years to look into these very alarming claims? And that all they currently have to show for it is a medical test which somehow can’t be verified? Look, I know Dick Wolf is not actually a member of law enforcement, but these are some pretty wild claims that nobody in law enforcement took seriously at the time.
Which brings me to my last concern: it doesn’t sit well with me that no one can confirm Natalia’s age. These medical “tests” feel about as legit as those pregnancy tests I bought at the Dollar Tree. I know she has a unique case of dwarfism but my god there has to be a way to medically tell her age that isn’t cutting her open and counting the rings like she’s a goddamn tree. I mean is she 11? 14? 18? 22? 33? JUST TELL US HOW OLD YOU ARE, NATALIA.
At the moment, all we know for certain is that Natalia is currently in the wind and her location is unknown. The Barnetts have been released on bail and continue to claim that they accidentally adopted a dangerous, mentally ill tiny adult for a daughter. And while the only immediate answers we’re going to get from this case will play out in the form of a “ripped from the headlines” episode of SVU, I will continue to follow this case v v closely. And by “closely” I mean between the hours of 1am-4pm when I can’t sleep because I still don’t understand how this con artist/Ukrainian child (??) managed to bamboozle both the American medical society and justice system. Stay tuned, Betches!
Images: Amazon; Giphy (3)