IT sounds like the plot of a horror movie — the lives of a loving family threatened by a “psychopath” dwarf posing as a child.
But in an incredible criminal case gripping the United States, a mum says she took in a girl believing she was an eight-year-old from the Ukraine in need of a home — when she was in fact a woman who threatened to kill the family.
Kristine Barnett, 45, started to suspect Natalia was no innocent orphan after she adopted her in 2010. She came to believe the new addition to her family was an ADULT of 22 with dwarfism posing as a child.
Kristine alleges the “impostor” tried to poison her, pushed her against an electric fence and threatened to kill her other children in their sleep.
Natalia is said to have smeared blood on mirrors and tried to jump out of a moving car.
Today, though, it is Kristine and ex-husband Michael who are facing a stretch in prison.
They are accused of neglect of a dependent after leaving Natalia to fend for herself in a rented apartment in the US state of Indiana, while they moved to Canada.
Kristine and Michael, 43, are accused of ceasing contact with the vulnerable youngster and giving her no financial support beyond an advance payment of the rent.
While Michael has left his lawyer to do the talking, Kristine has taken to social media and the Press to put her side of this amazing story.
‘STANDING OVER PEOPLE IN THE NIGHT’
On her Facebook page she wrote: “I am sick and devastated from the idea of any of these charges and maintain that they are false charges.”
The case has been compared to the 2009 horror movie Orphan, where a couple adopt a nine-year-old girl who turns out to be at least two decades older — then end up fighting for their lives against her.
While Orphan was Hollywood entertainment, separating fact from fiction in the Barnett story is not so simple.
Natalia supposedly got to the US from Ukraine in 2008 through an adoption programme.
Her first placement did not work out for undisclosed reasons, and in May 2010 she was taken in by the Barnetts, who had fostered other children.
The Christian couple have three sons, including autistic Jacob, now 21, who was dubbed a child genius due to his scientific talents.
The couple were told Natalia was six and had medical issues including a bone growth disorder and vision problems.
Kristine, who had been told she could not have more children, said: “I felt that if I had the ability to help another person in the world then I wanted to do it.”
They were determined to treat Natalia as one of their own offspring, taking her on special outings with their boys.
The Barnetts became the girl’s legal guardians six months later, despite having doubts that Natalia was really just six.
In an interview this week, Kristine claimed the “girl” was having periods, used grown-up language and preferred to hang out with teenagers.
It is alleged Natalia was unable to communicate with a Ukrainian friend — throwing doubts onto her backstory. In a bid to uncover the girl’s age in 2011, a bone density test was carried out. The result suggested Natalia was at least 14.
After that, her behaviour became increasingly erratic, and she attacked a young boy at the “little school” that Kristine then ran.
The family was gripped by fear.
Kristine alleged: “She would make statements and draw pictures saying she wanted to kill family members, or roll them up in a blanket and put them in the backyard.
“She was standing over people in the middle of the night. You couldn’t go to sleep. I saw her putting chemicals, bleach, (glass cleaner) Windex something like that, in my coffee and I asked her, what are you doing? She said, ‘I am trying to poison you’.”
At this point outpatient psychological help was sought for Natalia and later she was put into the care of a psychiatric unit.
Believing she should be in adult care, rather than a children’s hospital, the couple applied for Natalia’s official birth certificate to be changed.
In June 2012 a judge in Indiana agreed to change her age from eight to 22 on official records.
Kristine had presented medical documents from the family doctor and hospital staff which appear to back up her story.
Yet is it possible they were the victims of an elaborate “scam” where Natalia posed as a girl to get help.
One doctor told the Barnetts they weren’t the first people to be tricked by the “sociopath”.
When Natalia came out of hospital in August 2012 the Barnetts no longer wanted her in their family and rented an apartment for her.
The following July, the family moved to Canada for the sake of Jacob’s education.
To them, no crime was being committed because they believed Natalia was an adult. While Kristine claims they had done everything possible to help their adopted daughter, the authorities thought differently.
After a five-year investigation, Michael and Kristine have been charged with two counts of “neglect of a dependent”.
‘YOU EXPECT A CHILD TO BE A CHILD’
Medical reports filed by prosecutors state Natalia was aged eight in 2010 and 11 in 2012. There were different opinions as it was said her medical condition made providing an accurate age difficult.
Either way, authorities state she was probably no older than 13 when she was placed in the apartment in Lafayette, Indiana. She knew no one there and there was no support network for a disabled person.
In September 2014 Natalia told the authorities the Barnetts had left her behind and stopped all contact.
When Michael was spoken to by the police he is said to have confessed to knowing she was a child when she was left in the apartment.
A document provided to Tippecanoe County Court in Indiana says Michael admitted Kristine had said: “Tell others Natalia looked young but was actually 22.”
Michael and Kristine, who divorced in 2015 and now live in Indiana, have been bailed while investigations continue. There are unanswered questions, such as how Natalia survived more than a year alone in the apartment before contacting authorities.
Where Natalia is now living and who is caring for her is also unknown.
And as it is an adoption case of a minor, many court documents that could solve those mysteries are unavailable to the Press or public.
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Kristine, though, insists this is not a case of child abuse.
In an online interview she concluded: “From day one this was a mission of love. But when you bring a child into your home, you expect them to be a child.
“To be accused of this is unconscionable to me. It’s just horrifying.”
Kristine alleges the ‘impostor’ tried to poison her, pushed her against an electric fence and threatened to kill her other children in their sleep[/caption]
The Christian couple say they were determined to treat Natalia as one of their own offspring[/caption]
Kristine has taken to social media and the Press to put her side of this amazing story[/caption]
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