Bizarre Story Of Couple Accused Of Abandoning Their Adopted Adult Daughter

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It’s straight-up big screen movie stuff; a couple finds out their adopted ‘child’ daughter is actually an adult sociopath who tries to kill them and they end up being arrested for child abandonment when they get the heck out of dodge. And, while it does mirror the plot of the 2009 movie Orphan in a freaky way (right down to an Eastern bloc country of origin), it’s real-life for former husband and wife Kristine and Michael Barnett.

They’ve been charged withabandoning the daughter they adopted from Ukraine when they were told she was six-year-old, but court documents and other medical documentation claims Natalia Barnett was really a severely mentally ill adult who was taking advantage of the best intentions of many.

How Many Birthday Candles On That Cake?

Kristine and Michael Barnett adopted the ‘child’ in question from Ukraine in 2010. It was an emergency adoption, and according to Kristine in an interview with The Daily Mail, they were told Natalia was a six-year-old girl whose previous adopted family had ‘given her up’ for unknown reasons.

Kristine says that they loved her from the start, believing that love and care in their home with their three sons would make the difference for Natalia, who at first didn’t walk.

Until, Kristine says, one day she did. Out of the blue. And that began the litany of shocking things that were to come. Kristine says that her ‘six-year-old’ had pubic hair, periods and never grew an inch or lost teeth as children that age would do. Despite Natalia having spondyloepimetaphyseal dysplasia–a rare bone growth disorder–the Barnetts found things odd.

Parents accused of abandoning the adult daughter who tried to kill them.

Image: Kristine Barnett/The Daily Mail

So did their clinicians, when Kristine said that Natalia began trying to harm their family within a year of adoption. She said that Natalia tried to push her into an electric fence, poured bleach into her coffee and threatened to kill them in their sleep.

Her advanced vocabulary, unwillingness to associate with children in preference to older girls and women, and bodily functions that older girls would have led them to look into what was really going on.

The Ruling Is In: Hello, Adulthood!

Kristine and her ex-husband Michael went through a painful process of learning that their ‘little girl,’ was most likely an adult, based on physical examinations and bone scans. Kristine says they still moved heaven and earth to help Natalia, as they loved their daughter and sought appropriate mental health care for her.

Parents were accused of abandoning their daughter they claim was an adult

Image: Kristine Barnett/The Daily Mail

Their family doctor issued documentation that was submitted to Marion County Superior Court officials in Indianapolis, upholding the belief that Natalia was not only well above the age of six, but sociopathic in ideation, and in need of mental health help. Documentation verified by the Daily Mail shows several different instances of Natalia being deemed an adult, and most likely more like 22 rather than six. So much documentation and witnessing took place that the court legally changed Natalia’s age to 22, deciding she had actually been born in 1989. Kristine advocated for this action so Natalia could access mental health resources that were more appropriate for her daughter. Kristine was fully supported by mental health and physical health clinicians, as well as the courts.

The Days Are Short And The Years Shorter

Kristine’s family was featured on a 60 Minutes episode, profiling their son Jacob. Jacob is on the Autistic spectrum and a physics prodigy. Kristine is also a best-selling author of The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius and Autism, and the couple had been well-respected foster parents for many years. Despite feeling as if they’d been the victims of fraud in Natalia’s adoption, they continued to support her as an adult. Though the family moved to Canada so Jacob could attend the prestigious Perimeter Insititute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, they continued to support their legally adult daughter. They rented an apartment in Lafayette, IN and helped her enroll in adult mental health programs.

But in 2013, despite the Barnetts setting Natalia up with a place to stay, a social security card, assistance and more, she vanished and cut off all contact with Kristine and Michael.

She didn’t go far, though, as she found a ‘new family’ and changed her beneficiary of social security benefits, taking Michael out of the picture.

Meanwhile, the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department was in the process of charging the Barnetts with child neglect and abandonment.

Wait, We Changed Our Mind

Turns out that the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department believed that Natalia was indeed a child who’d been abandoned, and issued arrest warrants–years later–for leaving her in 2013. Though legally Natalia was an adult, and technically couldn’t be ‘abandoned,’ they charged the couple who surrendered themselves to authorities and are out on bail.

Kristine says she is beside herself wondering how the same authorities who agreed they’d been victims of fraud and had so much evidence to back that claim up–to the point that the Superior Court legally changed her age–now believe that she and her ex-husband could be guilty of doing anything but protecting their family from a mentally ill con artist.

A neighbor says parents abandoned their daughter they claim was an adult

For their part, the county sheriff’s department has other documentation from medical professionals who believe that Natalia is indeed a child, and neighbors have claimed that Natalia is indeed a victim herself. In fact, in the comments of WFLI’s report, Deborah Jean claims that her daughter took Natalia in, and that Natalia is now safe, cared for and wants for nothing.

Meanwhile, her parents wait for their day in court–again–and we all shake our heads wondering is really going on. Lifetime Movies, we know you’re watching!