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'It's Not True At All': Adopted Ukrainian Dwarf Says She's Just A Kid, Not A Con Artist
Michael Barnett and his ex-wife Kristine Barnett face neglect charges for leaving their adopted daughter Natalia on her own while they moved to Canada in 2013. They claim she's an adult masquerading as a child, but she maintains she's just 16.
She's been called a liar who wished her family dead –– an adult who for years masqueraded as a child.
Those accusations caused Natalia Barnett to sob during a televised sitdown on "Dr. Phil" Thursday.
"It's not true at all," Natalia said.
Her adopted parents, Michael Barnett and his ex-wife, Kristine Barnett, leveled those accusations against her after being charged with neglect in Indiana for allegedly leaving Natalia alone in a Lafayette apartment while they moved to Canada with their three sons in the summer of 2013. They pleaded not guilty to two counts of neglect in the Tippecanoe County Courthouse in September.
The prosecution alleges that Natalia was still a child when the Barnetts moved away. The Barnetts claim that Natalia, born in Ukraine, is a con artist who's much older than she lets on.
Seated next to her new parents, Cynthia and Antwon Mans, Natalia told Dr. Phil that she has a form of dwarfism called diastrophic dysplasia, as well as scoliosis. She appeared determined to publicly prove she is a teenage girl who was forced to grow up too fast —– not a scheming monster.
"I don't want people to be scared of me because of what they read," she said. "I want them to see the genuine me."
Asked by Dr. Phil how old she is, Natalia confidently answered, "I'm 16," and announced that she was born in 2003.
When the Barnetts adopted her from Ukraine in 2010, they believed she was 6 years old. In the ensuing years, they began to suspect she was a good deal older and claim their personal doctor supports that belief. However, previous medical tests cited by prosecutors concluded that she was, in fact, just a child.
In an interview with Oxygen.com last month, Michael, 43, alleged that not only was Natalia older than he'd originally believed, she was also actively plotting to harm her new parents.
“We think she’s sociopathic,” the father said. “She admitted everything during therapy sessions. She planned it all."
One time, he claimed, Natalia tried to poison her mom’s coffee while doing some kitchen cleaning.
Michael recalled his wife at the time asking Natalia to help wash dishes. When she left the kitchen for a few seconds, she returned to see their daughter hovering over her coffee cup while screwing the cap onto a bottle of floor cleaner, he claimed.
“Natalia had poured Pine-Sol into Kristine’s coffee cup on the counter,” Michael said.
When pressed about it, Natalia openly said "I'm trying to kill you," Michael claimed.
Natalia told a different story on Dr. Phil.
They were cleaning together, she said, but not dishes — rather, tabletops. And it wasn't Pine-Sol, but Lemon Pledge.
"We had missed a spot, so what I did was, I scooted the chair so I could get up there," she said. "And I scooted her coffee back so I could grab the thing — because it was in front of it. So I scooted it back and I grabbed it."
Kristine "came out and was like, 'What are you doing?'" Natalia said. "She claimed that I tried to spray it in her coffee. You could look in her coffee. There was nothing."
Becoming a Barnett
The Barnetts had been looking to add to their family when when they received a random call from an adoption agency based in Hollywood, Florida about a young girl from Ukraine, Michael recalled. On a time crunch, the family flew there to consider raising Natalia as one of their own.
When they met her, Michael said, Natalia was immediately shouting, "Mommy, daddy!”
Natalia said she thought she was finally with a caring, accepting family.
"After bouncing around a lot of families I thought I had found the right family for me," she told Dr. Phil.
Growing Up Too Fast?
While still in Florida to finalize the adoption, Michael said, one night his wife let loose a “frightening scream.”
He ran to the bathroom, finding Kristine “whiter than a ghost.”
His wife pointed at Natalia, who was standing naked in the bathroom, he said.
“I look down and Natalia has full pubic hair,” Michael said.
Dr. Phil played video footage of an interview with Kristine recounting that moment.
By the end of 2010, Michael claims to have received a second shock: His 6-year-old child started to menstruate.
He said his wife showed him a pair of Natalia's underwear, and it had “spots of the red, light-brown variety.”
“She tells me, ‘Michael, that’s a period.’”
Michael said his “heart started to sink," and he asked Natalia about it.
“She looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘I have a period and I’ve been hiding it from you,’” Michael said.
Natalia, however, claimed on Dr. Phil that not only didn't she have her period then, she still hasn't had one to this day.
Her new mother, Cynthia, chimed in confirming that in the seven years that she has cared for Natalia, "she does not have a menstrual [cycle]," she said.
"Not one," added her new father, Antwon.
"Kristine did not say anything about bloody clothing or anything to me," Natalia told Dr. Phil, noting that there were some stains on her clothes, but could only guess as to their origin.
"And ever since then, I have never ... there was [spotting] I guess. I don't know why," she said. "[Kristine] was like, 'See, that's blood.'"
Digging For Answers
Natalia began acting out, Michael said, leading the couple to send her to a variety of therapists. She also underwent foot surgery in late 2010. Confined to a wheelchair, Natalia allegedly removed the brake and would “purposely ram her wheelchair into other students” at her school, according to Michael.
It was at this time when Natalia said her new parents first began "questioning me about my age."
"Everything started happening after that one moment," she told Dr. Phil.
Natalia had to be removed from school because, Michael claimed, she was now “a danger to other students.”
Then came the alleged coffee incident. The parents felt “terror at all times,” Michael said. They took Natalia to the St. Vincent’s Mental Stress Center, a mental health hub for children, teens and young adults that is part of the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital.
It was there that Natalia also apparently underwent multiple physical tests.
A doctor at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in 2010 evaluated Natalia’s bone structure and determined she was “a minor child” about 8 years old, according to a probable cause affidavit.
A second test, including a skeletal survey, also concluded that Natalia was still “a minor child.”
Michael dismissed the significance of the tests because he believes they don't properly account for Natalia's rare form of dwarfism.
He said he had his personal doctor evaluate Natalia in 2012.
“One of the more important things my doctor saw is that she hadn’t grown an inch in the time” since they adopted her, Michael said.
Natalia was foggy when asked by Dr. Phil about the bone scans. She recalled getting one years later, but she said it was done out-of-state in Michigan.
Her adopted mother, Cynthia, chimed in, adding, "And the bone scan in Michigan said she was 14."
"I even have paperwork saying that," said Natalia.
From Child To 'Adult'
In 2012, the Barnetts moved to update her birth records. During that process, Michael claimed, a judge in Indiana’s Marion County “changed her birthdate from 2003 to 1989."
“We didn’t ask for an age — the judge decided,” Michael said, adding that they would be in violation of the court order if they didn't consider her an adult. "We had to treat her as being 22. This was a large mental jump we had to deal with."
The next year, the family left Indiana for Canada, renting Natalia an apartment in Lafayette.
Natalia told Dr. Phil the Barnetts told her, "We're gonna get you an apartment and we're going to Canada," she said. "I didn't know what to say. I didn't really know what was going on at first until after it happened."
Michael told Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s investigators on Sept. 5 that, other than paying rent, he and his wife didn't financially support Natalia after leaving her at the apartment in Lafayette, according to the affidavit.
He also allegedly said at that time that he “believed Natalia was a minor child” when the family moved out of the country, according to the affidavit.
However, Barnett now says the official document quotes him “incorrectly” and that a lot of things in it are “taken out of context.”
He also maintains that Natalia wasn’t neglected when the family moved away without her.
“I checked on her twice a week myself,” he said, adding that the family hired a home health aide in the beginning to keep tabs on Natalia.
“She billed us for 260 hours and worked up notes that said what she and Natalia did,” he said.
“She didn’t just get dropped in Lafayette and we ran to Canada,” he said. “She was living perfectly fine for a year before anybody questioned us about it.”
But Natalia believes what the Barnetts did was wrong and that they should be punished.
"I just want them to give up on the whole charade," she told Dr. Phil. "Like, I don't want them to just keep on with this."
Asked if the Barnetts deserve to go to jail, Natalia said she thinks they should suffer some kind of punishment.
"What happened, it's not right to do that to a child," she said. "I don't want that to happen to anybody. I don't speak that on anybody. But if it did have to come to that then they should do the responsible thing.
"Do their time and get it over with and get right with God."
A jury trial for the neglect criminal case accusing both Michael and Kristine Barnett is slated to get underway on Jan. 28, 2020, court records show.