Sooo remember last week when a story broke about Natalia Grace, a Ukrainian girl who was adopted by a couple in Indiana, and is accused by her adoptive parents of being a 22-year-old sociopath masquerading as a child? I obviously remember it, because it’s all I’ve thought about since the story broke. Most people take Kristine and Michael Barnett, the couple who adopted Natalia, at their word and believe that they really did accidentally end up in a real-life version of the movie Orphan. Others, though (namely, me and Indiana prosecutors) were more skeptical. Again, to reiterate: this is literally the plot of a movie that came out in 2009, that the Barnetts are claiming happened to them in 2010. I rest my case. But now, the Daily Mail has new developments that just made things even crazier than they were before.
In case you missed the original viral news storm, here’s the lowdown of what all your true crime-obsessed friends have been talking about nonstop. According to the Daily Mail, Natalia arrived in the United States in 2008 and was adopted by a New Hampshire couple, Dyan and Gary Ciccone. This is interesting because the New Hampshire couple gave Natalia up just two years later. I’ve got to wonder why that happened—is it because they quickly realized she was an adult who was trying to murder them? Or, IDK, just another reason? Then, the Barnetts adopted Natalia in 2010, after claiming they were contacted by a Florida adoption agency for an “emergency adoption” where they had 24 hours to complete the adoption. Which begs the questions: what was the emergency, and why did the Barnetts only have 24 hours to make a decision about adoption, like they claimed?
I wasn’t the only one who had questions about this adoption. A Not Another True Crime Podcast listener who requested to remain anonymous because of her career thought the “emergency adoption” detail was sketchy as well. She said in an email to Not Another True Crime Podcast, “I’ve worked in social welfare for both children and adults with developmental disabilities and/or serious mental illness for about ten years. AT NO POINT have I encountered a situation where an adoption was an ’emergency’. The adoption process through the state/county systems are long and drawn out. Even if you are a family member wanting to adopt, you are typically well-vetted with background checks, criminal history disclosures, drug tests, etc.”
She does clarify, “However, there is such a thing as an emergency foster placements, and a meet and greet for a foster child may only be one day before you decide to take them. Each child in care is also appointed a Guardian ad Litem in addition to their child safety worker to advocate in the courts for their best interest. So that makes me think the family who had to adopt Natalia ‘in an ER situation’ did so through a shady private agency or with shady state attorneys.”
Even more interestingly, in 2010 (the same year they adopted Natalia) the Barnetts started to suspect their adopted daughter was older than they thought (Kristine claimed this was due to reasons like her having a large vocabulary, not being interested in toys, but more legitimately, supposedly having a period and pubic hair). They took her to get a bone density test and the results estimated that she was 8 years old. Then, in 2012, they took her to get another bone density test, which concluded that she is 11 years old. And yet somehow, miraculously, later in 2012, they were able to get an Indiana court to declare her a legal adult and change her birth date to 1989. In 2013, when the Barnetts decided to move to Canada so their son Jacob could attend a prestigious school, they left Natalia in Indiana and rented her an apartment. They lost communication with her. In September 2019, the Barnetts are charged with neglect. And that’s how this whole story went viral in the first place!
So, what gives? Is Natalia 8 or 22? Is she a sociopath or nah? And why, in 2019, do we not have the technology to definitively conclude this one way or the other? Yes, Natalia has a rare form of dwarfism that makes determining her age difficult, BUT STILL. We have self-driving cars and caught the Golden State Killer after 45 years and we can’t tell if someone is a literal child or adult? Seems sketch.
Well guys, this case just got even more complicated on Tuesday, when a woman claiming to be Natalia’s birth mother spoke to The Daily Mail and claimed that, yes, Natalia was actually a child when she was adopted. Anna Volodymyrivna Gava told the Daily Mail that she gave birth to Natalia 16 years ago and divorced her father before deciding to give Natalia up for adoption. She claims she gave birth on September 4, 2003 but “felt forced to surrender her immediately because of the child’s severe disabilities.”
Anna then claims Natalia was placed in an orphanage and her name was changed by Ukrainian social services to Natasha (which is apparently the Ukrainian version of Natalia?). Natalia/Natasha lived at the orphanage for five years until officials contacted her and told her that she was going to be adopted by an American couple, and she was asked not to interfere with the adoption.
” there are good people in America, they will pay for everything, the child will be normal,” she told The Daily Mail, adding,”I was told that they would do her a surgery which I wouldn’t be able to afford. They said the surgery was some $80,000.” So, basically, they convinced her to give up her child by convincing her she’d have a better life in America and even be able to get surgery to fix her disabilities. I don’t know, I’d say that being publicly accused by your adoptive family of being a liar, scammer, and attempted murderer is not exactly a better life, how about you? Now Anna feels guilt for abandoning her daughter 16 years ago, admitting, “Of course I am not excusing myself, I did wrong too for ditching her, leaving her 16 years ago.” She also begged Natalia to come visit her and her siblings in Ukraine.
Dyan and Gary Ciccone, Natalia’s first adopted parents, told DailyMailTV that “they did not want to discuss their time with her.” While I respect that opinion, I really would implore them to give me the tea.
Now, I know what you’re thinking because it was my first thought: how do we know Anna Volodymyrivna Gava is actually Natalia’s birth mother, and not a scammer looking to cash in for a quick 15 minutes of fame? The Daily Mail says their reporters saw a document at the orphanage that proved Anna’s baby was admitted in 2003. DailyMailTV also claims they learned independently that Natalia came to the U.S. in 2008 with papers stating that she was named Gava Natalia Vadymivna and her birthday was September 4, 2003, and listing Gava Hanna Volodymyrivna as her birth mother. Okay, so that’s not exactly the same, but it’s pretty damn close. Like, what’s more likely: two people with practically the same name decided to impersonate some little girl/maybe adult and her mom for fun, or the spelling on the paperwork got f*cked up somewhere along the line between the U.S. and Ukraine? Or, I mean, I guess this orphanage and woman could have fabricated a few documents to make herself seem like Natalia’s actual birth mom. Let us see for ourselves, release the docs!
While Kristine and Michael Barnett face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for abandoning their child, Natalia is living with a new couple, Antwon and Cynthia Mans, who the Daily Mail reports treat her like a teenager and recently celebrated her 16th birthday. If she’s been attempting to murder them this entire time, they are either the stupidest people alive, or they have no regard for their own lives.
In conclusion, a wild case just not even more wild, and now this sh*t is like an episode of Maury. I’m going to need a DNA test on this supposed “birth mom”, and I’m going to need it yesterday.
Images: Not Another True Crime Podcast / Spotify; Giphy; Youtube
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)