That Viral Story of the Orphan Girl Who Might Actually Be an Adult, Explained

Kimberly Truong

If you've managed to keep up with the never-ending news cycle lately, you might have seen a wild story making the rounds. On Monday, the Daily Mail published a piece about a couple who adopted a daughter, only to later claim that the girl in question was actually an adult pretending to be a child and trying to kill family members.

But the horror movie-esque premise (which has been compared to the 2009 movie Orphan) only gets more confusing from there. The parents left their adopted daughter behind and moved to Canada, and have now been charged with abandonment.

Here's a breakdown of the entire situation.

The Story

Kristine Barnett, 45, and her ex-husband Michael Barnett, 43, a couple from Indiana, adopted a Ukrainian-born daughter named Natalia in May 2010 from a Florida adoption center. In 2013, they left her in the U.S. and moved to Canada with their son — which Kristine says they did only after finding out that Natalia was apparently lying about her age.

What the Barnetts Have Been Charged with

Earlier this month, the Barnetts were both charged with two counts of felony abandonment of a dependent based on a statement Natalia made in 2014, alleging that she was "left alone" by her adoptive parents the year before. According to court documents obtained by NBC, she told police that she came to the U.S. in 2008 through an adoption program. The documents also stated that she has a form of dwarfism and stands at about three feet tall, and needs help walking.

Police say that from 2013 to 2016, the Barnetts didn't support Natalia financially while she lived alone in an apartment in Indiana and they were in Canada, where they had moved so their son, Jacob, could attend a specialized school.

Natalia's Age

The Barnetts told Daily Mail that Natalia is not nine years old, as charging documents say — they claim that she was a 22-year-old masquerading as a child. According to NBC, hospital records from June 2010 showed her age was approximately eight years old (according to bone-density measurements). However, hospital records from June 2012 showed she was about 11, and that same year, prosecutors say Michael and Kristine legally changed Natalia's age to 22.

Kristine Barnett claimed to Daily Mail that a family doctor who conducted bone-density tests after Natalia was adopted determined she was 14 years old or older. The police say Michael Barnett told them this month that "Kristine Barnett told Natalia to tell others Natalia looks young but was actually 22," but he’s now denying that he made that statement.

What the Barnetts Say

Kristine and Michael Barnett say they're victims of fraud — and claim that throughout her time with them, Natalia terrorized the family.

Kristine told Daily Mail that the former couple thought Natalia was six years old when they adopted her, but discovered things that indicated to them that she wasn't a child. While giving her a bath, she says, she discovered that Natalia had full pubic hair, and said that at one point, she found proof that Natalia had been getting her period and hiding it.

She also said that after the bone-density test, Natalia began talking of killing the family — she drew pictures saying "she wanted to kill family members, roll them up in a blanket and put them in the backyard." Kristine claimed that Natalia put bleach or Windex in her adopted mom's coffee and told her, "I am trying to poison you," and that she stood over the couple while they slept.

Natalia was then placed in a psychiatric unit at a hospital after she tried to drag Kristine into an electric fence in 2012, and during her treatment, she allegedly told a clinical therapist that she was 18, and described to staff how she had tried to kill family members and had no remorse about it.

The Barnetts say that in 2012, they officially had Natalia’s age "corrected" to 22 in court to get her the psychiatric treatment she needed as an adult. Kristine said that she helped Natalia rent an apartment, after which she "vanished" and stopped returning the Barnetts's calls.

The Case's Current Status

It's not known where Natalia currently is — Kristine told Daily Mail she's worried Natalia is posing as a child to fool another family.

"I had found a little pink dress in her closet and a little pink bicycle parked beside her house," she said. "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."

In 2016, a couple named Antwon and Cynthia Mans applied to be Natalia’s guardians, thereby restoring her age to that of a minor. The Barnetts then filed an objection, and a judge upheld the original ruling that Natalia was indeed born in 1989, but that was the last time anyone saw Natalia.

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