The Orphan – True Story

Kristine Barnett, 45, and ex-husband Michael Barnett, 43 have been charged with abandoning their daughter when she was 9 in Lafayette, Indiana, and fleeing to Canada.

Kristine Michael Barnett

In an interview, Kristine denies the claims and says she and Michael were victims of a fraud, claiming the girl they adopted was an adult con artist who tried to kill her.

Kristine and Michael agreed to the emergency adoption of Ukrainian-born Natalia Grace in May 2010 from Florida and were told she was 6.

Within a year, Kristine claims Natalia tried pushing her onto an electric fence, poured bleach into her coffee and threatened to stab the Barnetts in their sleep.

Natalia was treated by mental health specialists who determined she was an adult and pressed for the courts to have her birth certificate changed.

In 2012, Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis decided Natalia was born in 1989, based upon medical evidence.

The Barnetts moved to Canada and left Natalia in an apartment in Lafayette.

Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department allege that Natalia was a child when they ‘abandoned her in 2013. Arrest warrant were issued, both Michael and Katherine surrendered to authorities and have been released on bail at this point.

But as far-fetched as it sounds, this is the astonishing defense put forward by a mom-of-three and parenting author shockingly accused of felony neglect for abandoning her adopted daughter.

Kristine and Michael agreed to the emergency adoption of Ukrainian-born Natalia Grace (above) in May 2010. This photos shows Natalia in September 2012. Her original birth certificate made her 9 but a court would later determine she was in fact 23 when this picture was taken

Police say the girl was left to fend for herself for three years despite having a rare form of dwarfism that means she is 3ft tall and has problems walking.

But Kristine insists there’s a major flaw in their case: Natalia was not a nine year old – as charging documents claim – she was actually 22.

Barnett claims the true victims are her and her family who were terrorized for years by the mysterious impostor who threatened to kill the entire family and attempted to personally kill Kristine multiple times.

‘She 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’

‘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.”

‘The media is painting me to be a child abuser but there is no child here,’ said Barnett.’

‘Natalia was a woman. She had periods. She had adult teeth. She never grew a single inch, which would happen even with a child with dwarfism.

‘The doctors all confirmed she was suffering a severe psychological illness only diagnosed in adults.

‘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.’

Before criminal charges were leveled at them on September 11, Barnett and ex-husband Michael were hailed as exemplary parents who raised child ‘genius’ Jake Barnett. Diagnosed with autism at age two, Jake nonetheless had his first academic paper published at 12 and by 15 was studying at a prestigious physics institute.

The Barnetts, experienced foster parents who ran a children’s day care from their Westfield, Indiana home, collected the curly-haired youngster from Florida in May 2010.

While living with the Barnetts, Natalia’s adoption was completed in November that year.

Kristine Barnett insisted she treated the new addition to her family as if she were her biological child. She had no hesitation in accepting Natalia despite learning she had a bone growth disorder named spondyloepimetaphyseal dysplasia, which causes short stature, skeletal abnormalities and problems with vision.

Given just 24-hours to complete an emergency adoption, the couple raced to an adoption center in Florida to sign the paperwork and meet their ‘six-year-old’ daughter. They gleaned precious few details of her background: Natalia had been in the US for two years, had a Ukrainian birth certificate reading September 4, 2003 and needed a home immediately because her previous adoptive parents suddenly gave her up – for undisclosed reasons.

Out of compassion for their situation I didn’t want to press them for information on what had gone wrong,’ the mom went on.

Barnett grew more alarmed when she saw the little girl naked for the first time.

‘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 added.

There were further clues to an apparent deception: Natalia shunned dolls and toys, sought the company of teenage girls and appeared to use sophisticated vocabulary way beyond someone her age.

She didn’t have any trace of a foreign accent and when the family asked a Ukrainian friend to speak in their native language Natalia couldn’t understand or describe her homeland.

Barnett says she soon began finding bloody clothing in the trash suggesting Natalia was having her period and trying to conceal the evidence.

She sought out the help of her family physician who ordered bone density tests to establish Natalia’s age.

When the results suggested the little girl was indeed at least 14 or older, Barnett says she switched the princess outfits and pink dresses for more appropriate clothes. But as questions swirled around her age and true identity, Natalia’s behavior begun to deteriorate.

Pictured in December 2010, Natalia had an adult vocabulary. Kristine Barnett said,  ¿At the time I ran a little school and I remember she said to me, these children are exhausting, I don't know how you do it.'

Barnett recalls watching aghast on a baby monitor as Natalia attacked a baby boy when she was out the room.

When they attended therapy together Natalia scoffed at the ‘childish’ bonding exercises.

By 2011 Barnett says that Natalia was smearing bodily fluid on walls, making death threats and hearing voices as her mental health broke down. 

For the next year being treated for various psychiatric disorders, spending days to weeks at a time at the St Vincent Indianapolis Stress Center. During this treatment Natalia was said to confess to being much older than she appeared to be.

One clinical therapist in January 2012 said Natalia claimed to them that she was 18.

Then, at Larue Carter Hospital in Indianapolis, in June 2012, staff said she had described how she had tried to kill family members and had no remorse about it, with Natalia going as far as to describe it as fun to staff.

Most damning of all is probably a letter from the Barnetts’ primary care physician Andrew McLaren MD, dated March 2012, in which he says Natalia’s 2003 birth date was clearly inaccurate and that Natalia had made a career out of pretending to be a young child. He said Natalia fooled him, her parents and other physicians. 

It was also in 2012 that police first began asking questions. Some started so believing she was doing some immigration fraud of sorts. Maybe something that’d been going on long before she was ever involved with this family.

Detective Scott Clouse of the Westfield City Police Department had referred the case to the FBI and ICE because he suspected there was ‘false age reporting’ prior to Natalia leaving Ukraine. Clouse has since died and his former colleague says he doesn’t believe the FBI looked any further.

In June of 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 the couple’s allegations were ‘true’ and revised Natalia’s date of birth to September 4, 1989 – changing her age from eight to 22. Barrnett then points out she’d be considered an adult and to be responsible for herself.

Even so, Barnett says she and her husband rented an apartment for Natalia when she was discharged from secure psychiatric care in August 2012 and placed under the supervision of state healthcare provider, Aspire Indiana.

They further helped her get a social security number, apply for benefits, food stamps and an ID.

When Natalia caused problems at the property and was evicted they stepped in again to prevent her from being homeless, renting a new apartment for her in Lafayette, Tippecanoe County.

Barnett said she was communicating daily with Natalia and even came up with a plan for Natalia to enroll in college to get her high school diploma and study cosmetology.

The building in Lafayette, Indiana which Natalia's apartment was based in. The Barnetts paid a year's rent for Natalia to live there

Mrs. Barnett co-signed the lease and paid for the rent up front for a year. I did everything you would do when you send your child off to college, I helped her with groceries and bought furniture at Target for her.

She had a concrete plan for her life. She had food stamps. She had social security income for the rest of her things. She had demonstrated she was able to live.

By 2013 Barnett says Natalia had vanished and stopped returning her calls.

Barnett now says she fears Natalia had stopped taking her medication and was probably posing as a child again for another unsuspecting family.

Yes I know it sounds like something straight out of the 2009 horror movie “Orphan” but it’s not. This is real, and shit like this obviously actually happens. So My advise, watch out who your adopting out there.