No family out there is without its drama, but sometimes you read about another family whose issues not only make yours feel like nothing in comparison, but make you turn around and hug each individual family member to thank them for not being this...extreme.
The story of the Barnett family is completely unmatched and still largely unsolved, with a tangled web of lies still in need of unweaving. Here's what we know so far about the downward spiral of their family and where we can look for answers.
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Where We Begin
Michael and Kristine Barnett, a couple from Indiana, believed they were doing a good thing when they decided to adopt a young orphaned girl from Ukraine in 2010.
Her name was Natalia Grace, and she was supposedly six years old at the time, but it wasn't the happy family the couple had dreamed of. What would ensue over the next few years sounds like the plot of a horror movie.
But things didn't start out that way. In fact, before the eventual dissolving of their family, the Barnetts were wonderful parents.
Her First Appearances
Before adopting Natalia, they had a son, Jake Barnett. Jake was a certified genius, having published his first academic paper at only 12 years old and studying physics at university at 15.
His story and that of his family were featured in an episode of CBS 60 Minutes in 2012. His younger adopted sister, Natalia, can be seen in many shots throughout the special. She appeared to be a shy but smiley girl, ultimately quiet but a loving part of the family.
Which, of course, is what the Barnetts had been hoping for.
The two were elated about Natalia's adoption. They already had prior fostering experience and even ran a daycare out of their home, so inviting another child into their life was nothing new to them.
In an interview with DailyMailTV, Kristine says through tears that she treated Natalia as if she were her own biological child right from the start. She accepted Natalia right away, even though they received news early on that she had a bone growth disorder named spondyloepimetaphyseal dysplasia, which can cause skeletal abnormalities, poor vision, and general short stature.
Out Of The Goodness Of Her Heart
"I always wanted to have a larger family and I had very severe complications in my pregnancies and was unable to have more children," Kristine explained when discussing her motivation to adopt Natalia. "I also at that time had a very privileged life. I felt that if I had the ability to help another person in the world then I wanted to do it."
Natalia's adoption was actually considered an emergency adoption, all done in under 24 hours. They rushed to the adoption center to sign all the paperwork and meet her for the first time.
She had reportedly been in the U.S. for two years, sporting a Ukrainian birth certificate that read September 4th, 2003. Her adoption was an emergency because her previous adoptive parents abandoned her for undisclosed reasons.
"Out of compassion for their situation I didn't want to press them for information on what had gone wrong," Kristine explained.
"Natalia was extremely nervous. You could see she was going to need a lot of support and care. We did notice immediately in the parking lot that she couldn't walk. There was nothing in the paperwork stating that."
A Sudden Switch
As the days went on, things started seeming very strange to Kristine and her husband.
First, her trouble walking seemed to come and go. One minute, she needed to be carried everywhere, while the next, she was sprinting toward the ocean during a trip to the beach with her newfound siblings.
They also noted that she turned away from toys made for girls her age, preferred the company of teenage girls over other kids, used a very advanced vocabulary for a six-year-old, and upon seeing Natalia naked for the first time, Kristine noted that she had fully-grown pubic hair.
She also had no Ukrainian accent, nor did she seem able to speak or understand Ukrainian at all.
"At the time I ran a little school and I remember she said to me, these children are exhausting, I don't know how you do it," Kristine said. "I was like, you're supposed to be a child yourself. It was like something another mom would say as she dropped her kids off."
"It's very hard to decipher how old she is because she has such a unique look. But at that time I started to believe she was probably a teenager."
Nothing But Love
That alone wasn't enough to put her off, though. "But I didn't have any regrets. This was what I wanted to do. I felt overwhelming love for her."
She did want to know how old Natalia actually was, so she turned to their family physician who ordered bone density tests to pinpoint her age. Results came back stating she was 14 or older, so Kristen shifted gears and started treating her daughter more like the teenager she was rather than the child she had inititally believed her to be.
But it was here when things started to take a dark turn.
The first case of Natalia acting in a frightening manner was when she attacked a baby boy attending the family's daycare. Kristine immediately brought her to therapy, where she brushed off the "childish" bonding exercises the therapist proposed.
By 2011, she was "smearing bodily fluids on walls," making death threats, and claimed that she was hearing voices, her mental health deteriorating as months went on.
The Barnetts did what they could to help, trying to find the proper treatment for a number of psychiatric disorders she was potentially diagnosable with, sometimes spending weeks at the St. Vincent Indianapolis Stress Center.
The Final Straw
Then, during a birthday outing in 2012, Kristine claims Natalia tried to drag her into an electric fence. After that incident, she was placed in a long-term, state-run psychiatric unit as she was posing a threat to others.
During this treatment, Natalia revealed that she was much older than she let on. The tests weren't wrong when they said she was over 14, because she was actually 18. This would later turn out to be false, with her true age at the time being 21.
Later that year, Natalia revealed to care staff that she had tried to kill her family members and did not feel bad about it in the slightest. She even said it was "fun."
Still Willing To Help
Even after all this, The Barnetts still wanted to help Natalia get the help she needed. They applied to get her birth certificate corrected, which it was, so she was now considered an adult by the state and thus legally responsible for her own well-being.
Despite that, her parents helped her rent an apartment, get a social security number and apply for benefits, food stamps, and a proper ID. Though she was living on her own, she was still under the supervision of a state healthcare provider.
A Hopeful Future
They even worked with her to come up with a plan to enroll her in college so she could get her high school diploma and study cosmetology.
"I said I've been taking care of you here as an adult, I will do one more year of financial aid, the exact same thing I am doing for all of my children," said Kristine. "I co-signed the lease and paid for the rent up front for a year. I did everything you would do when you send your child off to college, I helped her with groceries and bought furniture at Target for her."
Distance Between Them
"'I was optimistic, she had a concrete plan for her life. She had food stamps. She had social security income for the rest of her things. She had demonstrated she was able to live."
Kristine, Michael, and their sone Jake all moved to Canada in 2013 so Jake could attend the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. Natalia was to remain in her Indiana apartment.
Kristine claims that by the time the family was moving, Natalia has all but vanished, no longer returning their calls.
She started to grow worried Natalia had stopped taking her medication or was even posing as a child again to trick another family.
"I had found a little pink dress in her closet and a little pink bicycle parked beside her house," she explained.
"I would have forced her back into treatment but I couldn't do that any longer because she was an adult. 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."
Far From The Truth
"The last time we spoke on the phone, she told me she was cooking spaghetti for her new family."
Then, years later, Michael and Kristine were being charged with abandonment, as police were told they abandoned their young daughter and fled to Canada. This report came from Natalia herself, so police believe her and began working with her to press charges.
"'I did not abandon anyone," Kristine assured. "I went to Canada to further my son's education. These accusations are absolutely devastating."
All these details first broke in 2019. Since then, Kristine has revealed a number of things Natalia supposedly did to her family to scare them while living in their home.
"She would make statements and draw pictures saying she wanted to kill family members, roll them up in a blanket and put them in the backyard."
"She was standing over people in the middle of the night. You couldn't go to sleep. We had to hide all the sharp objects."
"I saw her putting chemicals, bleach, Windex something like that, in my coffee and I asked her, what are you doing? She said, 'I am trying to poison you.'"
"She was jumping out of moving cars. She was smearing blood on mirrors. She was doing things you could never imagine a little child doing."
Minutes Of Fame
This case has gotten a ton of media attention as well. Most notably was Natalia's appearance on Dr. Phil. She claimed there that she was, in fact, abandoned by her parents in an apartment alone when she was only nine years old, and insisted that she was the victim in this entire situation.
Now, there's a full-blown investigative documentary about the case being released, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace, the trailer for which hints that there may have been far more happening behind the scenes than Natalia, Michael, or Kristine have let on.
Hoping For Answers
The contradicting information, multiple police reports, and a wide array of medical documents still paint an incredibly confusing picture of what's happening in the Barnett family.
One thing that we can be certain of is that something very dark happened, regardless of which family member was at fault. With the documentary's release, there will hopefully be a clearer image painted, and whoever the true victim was can find some peace at last, knowing they won't be considered a villain any longer.