This story has Lifetime movie written all over it. Adoption. Abandonment. International intrigue.
The girl at the at the center of the bizarre saga — Natalia Grace Barnett, whose parents from Indiana claim is actually a Ukrainian woman with dwarfism posing as a child — is scheduled to tell her side of the story Thursday on the “Dr. Phil” show.
“Are you a 33-year-old scam artist?” Dr. Phil McGraw asks in clip provided from the show.
“I guess it comes down to whether or not you are an evil psychopath demon child that’s come over here to murder everybody,” he says in another clip.
“I just want people to hear my side,” Natalia Grace says.
“They say that you scammed them. That you lied about your age and came over here and terrorized them,” McGraw says.
“It’s not true at all,” says Natalia Grace, shedding tears.
Natalia Grace now lives with another Indiana couple and their five children, the Mans family, according to the DailyMail.com. Antwon Mans, 36, is ordained as a pastor and lives in a former church parsonage with his wife Cynthia, 39, and children.
“Were you at all concerned, at the time, that we could be putting the children … in jeopardy,” McGraw asks Cynthia and Antwon Mans.
“We are supposed to help,” Cynthia Mans responds. “Me and my husband adopted these kids. It’s like who would do it if you don’t.”
A family friend told the DailyMail she considered the Mans family to be “Good Samaritans” who wanted to help an abandoned child.
“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,” she said.
Where it all began
Prosecutors say that, in June 2010, Kristine and Michael Barnett adopted an 8-year-old girl with dwarfism born in Ukraine.
The Barnetts, however, said they found Natalia Grace actually was a woman and posed as a child when they adopted her. They changed her age to 22 before moving to Canada in summer 2013 without her. Michael Barnett, however, told police in 2019 that he believed the girl was a child, not an adult, when they left her, according to an affidavit.
The story has made international headlines as the parents, who are now divorced, face charges of neglect, six years after prosecutors say they abandoned their adoptive daughter in Lafayette, Indiana.
Here’s what we know
According to an affidavit, Natalia Grace told a sheriff’s deputy in September 2014 that she came to the U.S. in 2008 as part of an adoption program.
She said she had a form of dwarfism known as spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita. The disorder is known for causing skeletal abnormalities, and on occasion, vision and hearing issues.
Natalia Grace told police the Barnetts adopted her in 2010.
Child abandonment or murderous scam? Bizarre case of Ukrainian adoption gone wrong
What the Barnetts say happened
The Daily Mail reported in September that Kristine Barnett said she began to suspect that her daughter was older than the adoption agency said after bringing her home.
Michael Barnett reiterated that during an appearance on the “Dr. Oz” show in October, adding that Natalia Grace threatened to kill Kristine and the family’s three biological children.
Kristine Barnett confronted Natalia Grace after catching her pouring household cleaner into her coffee, Michael Barnett said.
Daughter’s age tested, then changed
The affidavit stated that children’s hospital records show a doctor examined the Barnetts’ daughter and approximated her to be 8 in 2010.
The hospital conducted a skeletal survey in 2012 and approximated her age as being 11.
In another clip provided by the “Dr. Phil” show, Natalia Grace denies getting an earlier bone scan.
“They claim that they did bone scans and all that,” she said.”I don’t remember going through a bone scan. I remember going through a bone scan in Michigan.”
“And the bone scan in Michigan said she was 14,” Cynthia Mans says.
“I even have paperwork saying that,” Natalia Grace says.
In June 2012, the Barnetts legally changed the girl’s birth record to indicate she was born in 1989, not 2003, as her Ukrainian records indicated. Today, she is legally 30.
According to an affidavit, Michael Barnett told authorities in Sept. 2019 that his wife told their daughter to say she was 22 if anyone asked and to explain that she looked young for her age.
In March 2011, the Indianapolis Star featured the Barnetts’ eldest son, Jacob, in a front-page story. At the age of 12, he was already studying physics and developing his own theories of relativity at Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis.
National interest followed the story of a child prodigy with mild autism, including a segment on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” and an invitation to give his own TED talk the following year. His mother also wrote “The Spark,” a book about raising a child genius.
By 2013, the Barnetts’ son had been accepted to study and begin working toward a doctorate degree at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
The family did not take Natalia Grace with them to Canada, but Michael Barnett denied that his family abandoned the girl.
“There was no running to Canada,” Barnett said on “Dr. Oz.”
In a 2019 interview with police, Michael said they continued to pay the Natalia Grace’s rent but not for any other living expenses.
Divorce and eviction
In February 2014, Michael filed for divorce from Kristine. That same year, Natalia Grace was evicted from her apartment, telling authorities four months later that she had not seen her family since they left the country.
A former neighbor near her residence remembered that the girl attended classes at Lafayette Adult Resource Academy.
“She quit coming to class, and we didn’t know what happened to her,” Margaret Axsom said.
Charges and a trial date
Kristine Barnett and Michael Barnett are under a gag order barring them from disclosing negative or adverse, derogatory extrajudicial comments pertaining to the case. The gag order also covered prosecutors and defense attorneys. It was amended Friday to apply to Natalia Grace.
Both parents pleaded not guilty during an initial hearing. A trial date has been set for Jan. 28.
Contributing: Nate Chute and Ron Wilkins, Lafayette Journal and Courier. Follow Amy Huschka on Twitter: @aetmanshuschka