A sweet adoption story turned into a nightmare for the Barnetts, when they realized the little girl they though they took in, was actually an adult woman with dwarfism and severe mental health issues.
In an exclusive interview with DailyMail TV, Kristine and Michael Barnett claim they were victims of fraud. Though the two were charged with abandoning their adopted daughter when she was 9, they claim she was the one who lied to them, posing as a child when she was really a teenager.
Kristine says she and Michael adopted Ukrainian-born Natalia Grace in May 2010 from Florida and were told she was 6 years old. They immediately loved her as if she was their own and warmly welcomed her into the family. But less than a year later, they began to notice some bizarre behavior on Natalia’s part.
Kristine remembers the first time she gave her adopted daughter a bath, she was shocked to see that she had “full pubic hair.” And weeks later, she noticed she had gotten her period.
“I had just been told she was a six year old and it was very apparent she wasn’t,” says Kristine. “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.”
While Natalia often acted like a child, and loved to dress in pink dresses and kid’s clothes, her vocabulary was that of an adult, and she preferred the presence of teens rather than of children.
“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,’” says Kristine.
Though her birth certificate said Natalia was born in Ukraine, she didn't have a foreign accent, couldn’t understand Ukrainian, and couldn’t describe her homeland.
Despite realizing that her daughter was much older than she believed, Kristine says “But I didn’t have any regrets. This was what I wanted to do. I felt overwhelming love for her.”
Things changed when Natalia began to display aggressive behavior.
Kristine says her daughter would draw pictures of her killing family members, then wrap the sketches up in blankets and bury them in the backyard.
“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,’” recalls Kristine.
Other times, Natalia would smear blood on the house mirrors, attack babies, and make death threats, claiming she was hearing voices. One day, during a 2012 birthday outing, she tried to drag her adoptive mother on to an electric fence.
At this point, Natalia was placed long-term at a state-run psychiatric unit. It was during treatment that she allegedly confessed to being 18 years old.
Kristine says she and Michael took Natalia to a series of specialized doctors, but no one could agree on her age.
Eventually, after years of struggling with Natalia’s behavior and age mystery, her adoptive parents rented her an apartment and let her live on her own, like she had proven she could. The three kept in touch, but after Kristine and Michael moved to Canada with their son, Natalia broke off contact with them.
Kristine says she went by Natalia’s apartment one day to check on her, and found a little pink dress and a pink bike, prompting her to believe Natalia is again posing as an orphan for another family.
Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Department allege that Natalia was a child when Kristine and Michael “abandoned” her in 2013, but they continue to maintain their innocence, saying the terms do not apply, as Natalia was not a child.
Both Michael and Kristine surrendered to authorities and have been released on bail.
“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 a unconscionable to me. It’s just horrifying,” Kristine says.