Kristine Barnett: Indiana mum who abandoned 'adult' daughter who tried to kill her cleared of neglect charges
Having adopted Natalia from Ukraine at what she believed was the age of 8, she quickly realized that the girl was, in fact, an adult
LAFAYETTE, INDIANA: Pending neglect charges against an adoptive mother who has claimed that her daughter lied about her age and was an adult with growth disorder when she took her in have been dismissed by a judge, who conceded that the girl was not a child in the eyes of the law. The case of Natalia Barnett has caught international attention after her adoptive parents, 45-year-old Kristine Barnett and her 43-year-old ex-husband Michael Barnett were arrested and charged with two counts of neglect of a dependent in September 2019.
That arrest had taken place after a five-year investigation concerning the 2013 abandonment of then-11-year-old Natalia. The pair stood accused of renting an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana, in July 2013, legally changing her age to 22, and leaving her alone at the residence before moving to Canada with their two biological sons. Natalia was found a year later by the authorities and told them she had not seen the Barnetts since they moved to Canada. when questioned, Kristine claimed that she abandoned the girl because she was a "sociopath" who had tried to kill her on multiple occasions. Having adopted Natalia from Ukraine in 2010 at what she believed was the age of 8, she said she and Michael quickly realized that the girl was, in fact, an adult.
It was a plot straight from the 2009 psychological horror film 'Orphan,' where Isabelle Fuhrman's Russian persona Esther suffers from hypopituitarism, a rare hormonal disorder that stunted her physical growth and caused proportional dwarfism, leading to her posing as a nine-year-old girl to potential victims. "She [Natalia] would make statements and draw pictures saying she wanted to kill family members, roll them up in a blanket, and put them in the backyard," Kristine told the Daily Mail in an explosive interview. "She was standing over people in the middle of the night. You couldn't go to sleep. We had to hide all the sharp objects."
"I saw her putting chemicals, bleach, Windex something like that, in my coffee and I asked her, what are you doing? She said: 'I am trying to poison you,'" she continued. "The media is painting me to be a child abuser but there is no child here."
Asked why she believed Natalia was not a child, the 45-year-old revealed she had adult teeth, never grew a single inch, and had periods which she had tried to hide from her and Michael. "I was giving her a bath and I noticed that she had full pubic hair. I was so shocked. I had just been told she was a six-year-old and it was very apparent she wasn't," she said. "The doctors all confirmed she was suffering a severe psychological illness only diagnosed in adults," she added. "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."
It all came to a head during a 2012 birthday outing, which was when Natalia reportedly tried to push Kristine into an electric fence. She was subsequently placed long-term at a state-run psychiatric unit, where she is said to have confessed to being far older than she appeared and described her attempts to kill her family as "fun." In June 2012, the Barnetts successfully applied to Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis, Indiana to have Natalia's age "corrected" so she could receive the appropriate psychiatric treatment for an adult. Judge Gerald S Zore accepted that the couple's allegations were 'true' and revised Natalia's date of birth to September 4, 1989 — changing her age from eight to 22.
In a November 2019 interview with Dr. Phil, Natalia dismissed Kristine's claims and insisted she was still a child. She said she thought the Barnetts were the right family for her after she moved around a lot of homes but that notion was quickly proved wrong. "I'm 16," she stressed. "I was six years old when I came to the United States. I just know that a family came and visited me and after a while, they adopted me."
Natalia also denied all claims of trying to harm or kill the Barnetts or their children. She told Dr. Phil the poison claims were a misunderstanding while cleaning with Kristine and that the stabbing allegations were false as well because she would only have entered their bedroom at night if she had had a nightmare. A month after that interview, prosecutors filed more serious felony charges of neglect against Kristine and Michael for not getting Natalia needed medical treatment because of her dwarfism.
And as both have continued to protest their innocence, Kristine received some respite from a Tippecanoe County court ruling this past week that moved to dismiss charges stemming from allegations that Natalia was a minor. Tippecanoe Superior 2 Judge Steve Meyer pointed out on Friday, August 14, that some of the neglect charges against the Barnetts were based on Natalia's age from her Ukrainian records that said she was born in 2003. However, as per the 2012 Marion County Superior Court ruling that he does not have the authority to change, he said Natalia was not a child. He also noted that agents of the state had the opportunity to challenge the superior court's ruling several steps along the way of bringing the charges against the Barnetts but did not do so. "The record supports a conclusion that the state has had its fair share of 'bites at the apple," Meyer wrote. "(A)s a matter of law, she is an adult."
Following the ruling, Michael filed a motion to dismiss those charges against him as well, with his attorney, Terrance Kinnard, doing so on his behalf on Monday, August 17.