A man acquainted with the Indiana family who took in a Ukrainian girl at the center of a bizarre controversy after her adoptive parents abandoned her has revealed new details about her situation.
Pastor Steve Thomas Lee, who manages the church Natalia attends with her family in Crawfordsville, Ind., appeared on "The Dr. Oz Show" to discuss the widespread confusion over the girl's age and origin.
Natalia and her new guardians, Antwon and Cynthia Mans, moved into the parsonage where Lee resides after Antwon recently became ordained, the pastor told Dr. Oz in an interview set to air on Oct. 31.
Lee said the last time he saw Natalia was about a month ago — before Antwon Mans began leading his own congregation — and described her as a "sweet spirit," as well as a "very engaging" and heavily involved member of the church's youth program.
"Even though they have started their own ministry, they came to our youth lock-in we had, where the youth gathered and just had a great time," Lee told Dr. Oz. "She was there and had a wonderful time,"
Although Lee said he would've guessed the girl was in her mid- to late twenties based on appearances, he added that if any members of the congregation "had questions, they kept it private."
"It's remarkable that she can weather all this," Dr. Oz told the pastor.
The Mans family has not publicly spoken out since the controversy over Natalia's age was reignited. Her adoptive parents, Kristine Barnett and ex-husband Michael Barnett, were charged with felony neglect of a dependent in September 2019, years after leaving the girl to fend for herself and moving to Canada in 2013.
The Barnetts have made a list of disturbing allegations against the girl to explain their actions, including claims she tried to kill Mrs. Barnett on two separate occasions.
Although it remains unclear how the Mans first met Natalia, the Daily Mail reports that the couple, who has five other children, tried to become her legal guardians in 2016.
However, legal records show they withdrew their petition after the court upheld an earlier ruling that she was born in 1989 and not 2003 — a change made in 2012 at the behest of the Barnetts.
Photos on Cynthia Man's Facebook account show Natalia smiling and posing with her siblings, with captions such as "I'm blessed" and "My loves."
Amid the ongoing legal drama surrounding the Barnetts, Antwon Mans took to Facebook to thank his community for the support.
"Thank you to everyone who are showing love and support for my daughter Natalia during this time," he wrote. "God bless you all."
A friend of the family who wished to remain anonymous told the Daily Mail that the Mans "care for Natalia and she likes being there."
"There's nothing crazy going on or anything. These are good people," she added. "They just so happened to come across this person that was not being treated right and cared enough to put in the effort to make sure something was done about it."