It has all the elements of a horror movie: an unsuspecting Christian couple adopts an adorable little girl only to discover she is an adult sociopath masquerading as a child.
The main idea sounds like it came from the 2009 horror movie “Orphan,” in which a pig-tailed “youngster” tries to ki*ll her family after finding out she is 33 years old.
Even though it sounds crazy, this is the amazing defence that a mom of three and parenting author used when she was charged with felony neglect for leaving her adopted daughter.
Kristine Barnett, 45, and her ex-husband Michael Barnett, 43, are accused of leaving Natalia Grace, who was born in Ukraine, at an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana, in 2013. They then moved to Canada a month later and stopped talking to each other.
Police say the girl, who is only three feet tall and has trouble walking because of a rare form of dwarfism, was left to care for herself for three years.
Kristane says there is a big problem with their case in an exclusive interview with DailyMailTV at a location that was not disclosed. She says Natalia was actually 22 years old, not nine as the charging documents say.
Barnett says the real victims are her and her family, who were scared for years by the unknown impostor who said he would stab them in their sleep, pushed her against an electric fence, and put bleach in her coffee.
“The movie ‘Orphan’ shows what really happened.”
“She would say things and draw pictures about how she wanted to ki*ll family members, wrap them in a blanket, and throw 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 news is making me look like a child abuser, but there is no child here,” Barnett said.
It was a woman, Natalia. She had her periods. She had full adult teeth. She never grew an inch, which is something that would happen to a child who is already short.
“All of the doctors agreed that she had a serious mental illness that is only found in adults.”
“She jumped out of moving cars.” She had blood on the mirrors. You would never expect a little girl to do the things she was doing.
Before they were charged with crimes on September 11, Barnett and her ex-husband Michael were praised as great parents who raised their “genius” child Jake Barnett.
Jake was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old, but by the time he was 15, he was studying at a well-known physics institute and had already published his first academic paper.
In 2012, CBS’s 60 Minutes showed his story. But it was the shy girl sitting to his left at the family dinner table who would one day make the news for much darker reasons.
The Barnetts got the curly-haired child from Florida in May 2010. They were experienced foster parents who ran a day care for kids out of their home in Westfield, Indiana.
Natalia was adopted in November of that year while she was living with the Barnetts.
Kristine Barnett told DailyMailTV that she treated the new member of her family as if she were her own child in an honest and tearful interview.
She didn’t think twice about accepting Natalia even after learning that she had spondyloepimetaphyseal dysplasia, a bone growth disorder that makes people short, messes up their bones, and makes it hard for them to see.
Barnett said, “I always wanted to have a bigger family, but I had very serious problems during my pregnancies and couldn’t have any more children.”
“At that time, too, I had a very good life.” I thought that if I could help someone, I would.
They had only 24 hours to complete an emergency adoption, so they rushed to a Florida adoption centre to sign the papers and meet their “six-year-old” daughter.
They only learned a few things about her past: Natalia was born in Ukraine on September 4, 2003, but she had been in the US for two years and needed a home right away because her adoptive parents suddenly gave her up for reasons that were not made public.
“Because I felt bad for them, I didn’t want to push them for information on what had gone wrong,” the mum said.
Natalia was feeling very tense. It was clear that she would need a lot of help and attention. We did see right away that she couldn’t walk in the parking lot. No such thing was written in the paperwork.
The couple gave Natalia lots of attention over the next few days. They took her to Disney World, where they ate ice cream, got treats, and played pillow fights with her three brothers to help her come out of her shell.
They got Natalia to do something that would leave them speechless on their first trip to the beach.
“The boys jumped into the water quickly, and Natalia asked to be carried into the ocean.” “Michael and I were both very tired, so we asked her to wait just a minute,” she said.
“After that, she got up and ran into the water.” When I looked at Mike, I thought, “What’s going on?” Just now, she couldn’t walk, but now she got up and ran.
Barnett became even more scared when she saw the girl for the first time without any clothes on.
“I saw that she had full pubic hair while I was giving her a bath.” I was shocked. “I had just been told she was six years old, but it was clear she wasn’t,” she said.
Natalia avoided dolls and toys, hung out with teenage girls, and used words that were way too advanced for someone her age. These were more signs that she was lying.
She didn’t have any signs of a foreign accent, and when her family asked a friend from Ukraine to speak in their own language, Natalia couldn’t understand or talk about her home country.
“I ran a small school at the time, and I remember she told me, ‘These kids are so hard to handle; I don’t know how you do it.'” Barnett kept talking.
“I told you, you should be a child yourself.” It sounded like something another mum would say as she dropped off her kids.
“Because she looks so different, it’s hard to tell how old she is.” But at that point, I began to think she was probably a teenager.
“But I didn’t feel bad about it.” That’s what I meant to do. I fell deeply in love with her.
Barnett soon started finding bloody clothes in the trash, which makes her think Natalia was having her period and trying to hide it.
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.
Barnett remembers being shocked to see Natalia attack a baby boy while she was not in the room. She saw it on a baby monitor.
Natalia thought the “childish” exercises for bonding were silly when they went to therapy together.
Barnett says that Natalia’s mental health was getting worse by 2011; she was putting bodily fluids on walls, making death threats, and hearing voices.
Natalia would go to the St. Vincent Indianapolis Stress Centre for days to weeks at a time for about a year to get help for a number of mental illnesses.
Barnett says that Natalia tried to drag her on an electric fence while they were out on a birthday trip in 2012. Because she was a threat to others, Natalia was sent to a state-run psychiatric unit for a long time.
Barnett says that Natalia told him she was much older than she looked while she was in treatment.
DailyMailTV saw a lot of paperwork from Barnett that seems to back up her story and show that health care professionals shared her deep worries.
One therapist said in January 2012 that Natalia told them she was 18 years old.
At Larue Carter Hospital in Indianapolis in June 2012, staff said she had talked about how she had tried to ki*ll family members and didn’t feel bad about it. Natalia even told staff that she thought it was fun.
The letter from the Barnetts’ primary care doctor, Andrew McLaren MD, in March 2012, may be the most telling. In it, he says that Natalia’s birth date of 2003 was clearly wrong and that she has been pretending to be a child for a living. He told him, her parents, and other doctors that Natalia lied to them.
Also in 2012, police started to ask questions for the first time. However, letters seen by DailyMailTV show that they were likely trying to find out if there was an immigration fraud going on before the Barnetts knew anything about Natalia.
Detective Scott Clouse of the Westfield City Police Department told them via email that he had sent the case to the FBI and ICE because he thought Natalia had been given false information about her age before she left Ukraine.
Clouse died of cancer four years ago, but a former coworker, Captain James Lilly, told DailyMailTV that he mostly remembered the case but didn’t think the FBI did anything else about it.
The Barnett family was able to get Natalia’s age “corrected” in Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis, Indiana, in June 2012. This allowed her to get the right mental health care for an adult.
According to documents seen by DailyMailTV, Judge Gerald S. Zore agreed with the couple that their claims were “true.” He also changed Natalia’s birthdate to September 4, 1989, which made her 22 years old instead of eight.
As Barnett points out, the state of Indiana now saw Natalia as an adult and gave her legal responsibility for herself.
At the same time, Barnett says she and her husband rented an apartment for Natalia when she got out of secure psychiatric care in August 2012 and was put under the care of Aspire Indiana, a state healthcare provider.
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.
“I told you I would take care of you here as an adult, and I will,” she said. “I will do the same thing I do for all of my children for one more year.”
“I co-signed the lease and paid the first year’s rent in advance.” When I sent my daughter off to college, I did everything a parent would do. I helped her get groceries and bought her furniture at Target.
“I was hopeful because she had a clear plan for her life.” She got food stamps. She got enough money from social security to pay for the rest of her things. It was clear that she was able to live.
After writing a memoir about Jacob, Barnett published ‘The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism’ in 2013. Jacob is now 21 years old.
In the same year, they moved to Canada so Jacob could go to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. Natalia stayed in her rented flat in the U.S.
Barnett says that by that time, Natalia had disappeared and stopped calling her back.
Barnett told DailyMailTV that she thought Natalia had stopped taking her medicine and was probably pretending to be a child again for another family who didn’t know what was going on.
‘I had found a little pink dress in her closet and a little pink bicycle parked beside her house,’ she said.
‘I would have forced her back into treatment but I couldn’t do that any longer because she was an adult.
‘She discontinued communication with me. What I did get was a letter in the mail stating that she had changed Michael from the beneficiary of her social security income to someone else.
“She told me she was making spaghetti for her new family the last time we talked on the phone.”
“I didn’t leave anyone behind.” I went to Canada so that my son could get a better education. These charges are completely devastating.
The Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department, on the other hand, has a very different story.
A report that DailyMailTV got on September 11 says that in June 2010, Natalia had bone density tests done by a doctor at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital named Dr. Riggs.
It was decided that she was about eight years old.
Two years later, at the same place, a second skeletal test showed that she was probably eleven years old.
The affidavit shows that Natalia herself told police in 2014 that she had been “left alone” when her adoptive parents moved to Canada. The police believed her because she was a “reliable and credible” witness.
But it doesn’t explain why detectives waited five years to talk to Michael Barnett about the claims. He divorced Kristine in 2014, got married again, and now lives back in Indiana.
The document says that when an officer spoke with Michael on September 5 he admitted he knew all along that Natalia was a minor child when she was allegedly abandoned.
Furthermore the affidavit adds: ‘Michael Barnett admitted Kristine Barnett told Natalia to tell others Natalia looks young but was actually 22.’
However his Indianapolis-based attorney, Terrance Kinnard, denied that his client made any such admission of guilt.
‘The police affidavit is not true. Michael never said he knew Natalia was a child,’ he told DailyMailTV.
When the police came to Michael’s door, he talked to them for three hours without an attorney present. It was clear that what he said was taken out of context.
“Neither my client nor I have any idea why the district attorney chose to claim these things about my client and Kristine.” “The affidavit has been very picky about which medical reports it has used.”
Natalia, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be known by the Barnetts, their lawyers, or anyone else involved in this strange case.
Even though Natalia might be 30 years old now, her full court records will stay sealed until a judge says otherwise. This is because adoption cases are private.
The last time she saw her adoptive father was in 2016 at Tippecanoe Circuit Court, where the end of their painful and confusing relationship took place.
There, Antwon and Cynthia Mans applied to be Natalia’s guardians without warning. This meant they had to prove she was a minor and change her birth date back to the one she was born on.
In their objection, the Barnetts said Natalia was an adult.
While public records aren’t available, DailyMailTV has learned that a judge ordered a new hearing to find out Natalia’s age, at which Michael Barnett and other experts testified.
Two people wanted to take care of Natalia because she lived alone. “Believing she was still a child, they tried to overturn the 2012 decision,” Michael’s lawyer Kinnard said.
“This time, the hearing was even more in-depth. The judge looked at medical reports and other papers, and witnesses told the court why they were sure Natalia was 22.”
“The judge upheld the first decision, and the couple dropped their petition for guardianship.”
“The most disturbing thing about this is that Michael told me that the police investigator in charge of the latest accusations against them was there.”
The Tippecanoe County Prosecutor’s Office in Lafayette was asked by DailyMailTV for a comment.
Responding, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jason J. Biss said, “According to Rule 3.6 and Rule 3.8 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct, a Prosecutor is not allowed to make statements outside of court, such as public comments, that could hurt a case and/or defendant.”
“I would defer to the filed Probable Cause Affidavit, which is part of the public court record.”
Since both Kristine and Michael Barnett have loudly said they are innocent, this question is likely to stay around.
“I’ve been helpful the whole time.” Kristine choked back tears as she said, “I have been honest with everyone the whole time.”
‘I am being charged by the state of Indiana for crimes against a child when the state of Indiana has determined multiple times that Natalia was an adult,’ added Kristine, who asked for her location to remain confidential over threats her family have received.
‘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 Barnett surrendered to authorities on Thursday, September 19 and was released after posting a $5,500 bond.
Ex-husband Michael surrendered to Tippecanoe County Jail in Lafayette on September 18 and was immediately released after having his mugshot taken and posting $5,000 bail.
He appeared at hearing in Tippecanoe Superior Court in Lafayette on September 24.