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Couple Charged With Changing Daughter's Age, Abandoning Her

Odd case 'is going to end up on a TV show,' law enforcement official predicts
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 17, 2019 7:47 PM CDT
Couple Charged With Changing Daughter's Age, Abandoning Her
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / hanohiki)

(Newser) – Michael and Kristine Barnett of Indiana have been charged with felony neglect after allegedly abandoning their daughter in an apartment and moving to Canada. But the "bizarre" case involving the girl adopted from the Ukraine goes back years, the Washington Post reports. The timeline:

  • The girl, who has a rare bone growth disorder (spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita) that results in dwarfism, was initially brought to the US by a different family in 2008. It's not clear what transpired, but the Barnetts ended up adopting her in 2010, and she went to live with them and their three sons in an Indianapolis suburb.
  • When the Barnetts adopted the girl, a doctor estimated she was 8; in 2012, however, another doctor estimated her to be 11, a year older than the previous estimate would have put her by that time. But that year, the Barnetts went to a probate court and were somehow able to get the girl's age legally changed to 22—more on that to come.
  • Sometime around 2013, police say the Barnetts rented the girl—now legally a woman—an apartment in Lafayette, where she says she knew no one, and then moved the rest of the family to Canada; they made the move in the summer of 2013 so 15-year-old son Jake, who had become semi-famous as a prodigy after his autism diagnosis, could study at a prestigious institute.

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  • An anonymous law enforcement source tells WLFI the girl's neighbors took her under their wing. Not much else about the girl's life after she moved into the apartment has been made public, but after less than a year there, she was evicted in May 2014 for failure to pay rent. She left no forwarding address, and court officers weren't able to track her down to collect the money. But in September of that year, after a school principal expressed concern, the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office located her.
  • However, it's not clear what happened during that meeting other than the girl telling authorities it had been more than a year since she'd heard from the Barnetts. There's also not much information on what happened to the girl in more recent years: She reportedly left the county in February 2016, 15 days before another couple petitioned to become her guardians.
  • But the Barnetts objected to that petition; in January 2018, the other couple changed their mind about becoming the girl's guardians and the Barnetts' objection was dismissed. Charges against the Barnetts, who filed for divorce in 2014 and were legally divorced by 2018, were not filed until Wednesday.
  • Kristine Barnett, now 45, says the girl had been diagnosed as a psychopath and sociopath, and that the adoption was a "scam." It's not clear how the Barnetts were able to get the girl's age legally changed, but Kristine Barnett gave News 8 a copy of a doctor's letter stating the date of birth on the girl's birth certificate is "clearly inaccurate" based on analysis of her teeth, sexual development, menstrual cycle, and more. The letter, which could not be independently verified, also claims the girl admitted she was over 18 in 2011 and that she had been committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2012.
  • Michael Barnett, now 43, told police in an interview earlier this month that he believed the girl to be a minor when the couple had her age changed and rented her the apartment, the Indy Channel reports. He told detectives that his then-wife told the girl that if people asked, she should say she was 22 and just appeared young.
  • Oddly, as all this was happening, the Barnetts were also gaining a degree of notoriety over their aforementioned son, Jake, whose story was covered by multiple outlets including 60 Minutes. Kristine Barnett even published a memoir about parenting her son in 2013.
  • This quote from a law enforcement officer pretty much sums things up: "This is going to end up on a TV show."
(Read more Indiana stories.)

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