The crazy, complicated story about Natalia, the Ukrainian orphan who may or may not have been an adult masquerading as a child, caused widespread confusion and chaos last month. Now, the most crucial missing piece of the extremely complicated puzzle — Natalia herself — has finally been found. By Dr. Phil.
Natalia, who has a rare form of dwarfism that makes it difficult to gauge her exact age, appeared on Dr. Phil on Thursday, on an episode with the very Dr. Phil title of “Ukrainian Orphan: Child or Adult Psychopath?” On it, she denied what her former adoptive parents, Michael and Kristine Barnett, have claimed: that when they adopted her as a 6–8-year-old child, they discovered she was really a mentally disturbed adult who threatened their family. She says she never lied about her age, and that she was really a child when the Barnetts took her in.
The Barnetts adopted Natalia from an orphanage in Florida and brought her to Indiana with them in 2010. But two years later, they petitioned a judge to officially have her age changed to 22, after they claimed to have conducted bone-density tests that reflected her accurate age. Soon after, they went to Canada with their son, leaving Natalia alone in an apartment, which authorities are now saying amounts to felony abandonment. Their trial is scheduled to begin in January 2020.
The Barnetts deny the charges, and say Natalia was a “con artist” who “scammed” them and made violent threats to their family. Others have offered support to Natalia, including her Ukrainian birth mother, who told the Daily Mail that she was forced to give her up when she was born in 2003, which would make Natalia 16. Lawyers who have represented Natalia have also said they believe she is not lying about her age.
Natalia told Dr. Phil that her condition is officially called diastrophic dysplasia, and that she also has scoliosis. She claimed that her birth date is September 4, 2003, which would make her 16 years old. In Natalia’s telling, she said that she was at first happy with the Barnetts: “I thought I had found the right family for me,” she said, until Kristine Barnett started questioning her age.
Natalia denied Barnett’s claims that she had showed signs of menstruating when she was supposedly a child, saying she has never actually had a period even as a teenager. She also denied Barnett’s story that she had ever tried to poison her and that she “hid knives” around the house, including on top of a refrigerator, which she would never have been able to reach by herself.
Natalia appeared with her new adoptive parents, Antwon and Cynthia Mans, who say they met her when a neighbor alerted them to the fact that she was living alone in an apartment. They said Natalia was living off of microwave food boxes and food from a nearby gas station, and that she had stopped going to the adult school that Kristine Barnett had enrolled her in. The Barnetts, she says, had told her to tell anyone who asked that she was 22. The Manses said Natalia has never shown any signs of troubling behavior toward her younger siblings or nephews.
When asked about what she thinks should happen to the Barnetts, Natalia said she didn’t want them to go to prison, but that “it’s not right to do that to a child.”
This post has been updated with additional information.