Natalia Grace, a Ukrainian orphan accused of being a 30-year-old scam artist by her adoptive parents, provided her side of the story for the first time on Thursday on the “Dr. Phil” show. During the episode, she denied all claims her former parents have made against her.
In 2010, an Indiana couple adopted what they believed was a six-year-old Ukrainian girl with dwarfism after her previous adoptive family in the United States gave her up. Two years after the adoption, Kristine Barnett, a parenting author and motivational speaker, and her now-ex-husband, Michael Barnett, filed a motion with the Marion County Superior Court regarding Natalia's age. The judge ordered Natalia’s birth year to be “corrected” from 2003 to 1989 on her birth certificate. At the time, instead of 10 years old, her birth certificate now put her at the age of 22.
In Sept. 2019, Kristine and Michael were charged on two counts of felony neglect of a dependent for leaving their adoptive daughter at an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana, in 2013 before they moved to Canada. A month later, they allegedly broke off contact with Natalia Grace.
According to the Barnetts, in an interview with the Daily Mail, Natalia had allegedly threatened to stab the couple, including their three children, in their sleep, pushed Kristine toward an electric fence and poured bleach in her coffee.
While appearing on the “Dr. Oz Show,” Michael stated that Natalia was caught pouring Pine-Sol into Kristine's coffee and, once confronted, said, "I'm trying to kill you."
According to Michael, red flags regarding Natalia’s age were raised the first night in their home.
On “Dr. Oz,” Michael claims that Kristine was bathing Natalia and noticed she had full pubic hair even though she was supposedly a young child. Later, he added, the couple discovered she had been covering up her menstrual cycle by hiding bloody clothes in her closet.
Natalia, and her new family, Antwon Mans, 36, an ordained pastor, and his wife Cynthia, 39, refuted these claims on “Dr. Phil” on Thursday. According to the couple, who have five other children, Natalia, whom they believe is 16, has yet to have a menstrual cycle. On top of that, she has never shown violence or threatened any member of their family in the years she has lived with them.
Natalia told Phil McGraw that when she was first adopted by the Barnetts, she felt she had found the "right family” and her permanent home. However, after her first surgery, which those effected by Natalia's type of dwarfism, spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, are prone to need, Kristine started to questions Natalia’s age.
Natalia went on to explain to McGraw that she did not hide knives, as Kristine claimed, as she could not reach the top of the fridge, even on a chair, and that she was using lemon Pledge to clean the tables, not trying to poison Kristine.
"We had missed a spot. So what I had did was move the chair over so I could get up there. I scooted her coffee back and she came out and was like, 'What are you doing?' And then she claimed that I tried to spray it in her coffee. You can look in her coffee. There was nothing."
She went on to claim that she had never been in the Barnetts' room, let alone standing at the foot of their bed with a knife, which Michael claimed on “Dr. Oz.” Natalia also said she had never intentionally pulled Kristine towards an electric fence.
"It was the youngest's birthday, so we went to the farm. We started walking and I got like a quarter of the way, and I sat down because my legs hurt really bad. Kristine had Michael and the boys go ahead of us. She sat down next to me and was like, 'Natalia, you need to get up.' So she got up and she was trying to help me get up and I fell again. She fell with me," Natalia told McGraw, adding that the incident occurred near an electric fence.
While appearing on the show, Natalia said she was happy people could "hear my side as well, and not just Kristine's side."
McGraw remained skeptical throughout most the interview.
"A six or seven-year-old child living in an apartment alone for a year? That's just not believable to me," McGraw said, questioning how she could afford to live or feed herself.
"I actually didn't even go grocery shopping," Natalia said. "My landlord took me to a gas station or something just to get a couple of things. The Barnetts had given me food, like canned foods and stuff like that."
According to Cynthia, the Barnetts had groomed Natalia before they left for Canada, and told her to tell anyone who asked that she was 22.
"[The Barnetts] say that you scammed them. That you lied about your age and came over here and terrorized them," McGraw said. "Are you a 33-year-old scam artist?"
"No, no, no, I promise you I'm not," Natalia said, while laughing.
McGraw seemed to sympathize with the Mans, stating that no matter what age Natalia actually is, she is a human deserving of love.
"I'm very impressed with you,” McGraw told Natalia. “You're an impressive young woman."
According to the New York Times, a gag order was issued against Michael and Kristine Barnett to prevent them from speaking to the media on Oct. 28. On Nov. 1, Natalia was added to that order.
On Oct. 8, the Daily Mail reported that Natalia’s alleged birth mother, Anna Volodymyrivna Gava, denied claims that her daughter was lying about her age.
"I know exactly how old she is," Gava, 40, told DailyMailTV. "This girl is my daughter, who was born 16 years ago."
Dr. Phil is currently working on arranging a meeting with Natalia and her alleged birth mother.
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