'Are you a 33-year-old scam artist?' Here's what Natalia Barnett revealed on the Dr. Phil show

Natalia Barnett, the adopted Ukrainian daughter at the center of a strange Tippecanoe County child neglect case, told her story Thursday for the first time.

Posted: Nov 7, 2019 2:55 PM
Updated: Nov 8, 2019 12:32 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Natalia Grace denied all the accusations her parents made against her in an exclusive interview with Dr. Phil McGraw. The episode, "Ukrainian Orphan: Child or Adult Sociopath?" aired Thursday on WLFI and is the first time the girl shared her side of the story. 

Natalia, who WLFI is now naming due to her coming forward with her story, said she was 16-years-old with a birthday of Sept. 4 2003. Her adoptive parents are facing two charges of child neglect in Tippecanoe County after prosecutors said they changed her age from 8 to 22-years-old, put her in a Lafayette apartment and then moved with the rest of the family to Canada. 

Natalia Grace during her taped interview with Dr. Phil

News 18 helped break the story on Sept. 12

Natalia has been quiet up until this point, despite News 18's numerous efforts. She appeared on a taped interview alongside the couple who has now taken her in, Antwon and Cynthia Mans. Below are the claims Natalia revealed on the show. 

Natalia's Backstory

"I was 6-years-old when I came to the United States."

Natalia Grace told Dr. Phil a family visited her in Ukraine, adopted her and moved her to New Hampshire. She said she stayed with the family for two years. When asked how many families she stayed with total, Natalia said she couldn't remember. 

"Kristine said I was with at least 30 families, said Natalia. "I don't remember being with that many families."

Natalia said the family that brought her to the United States had two boys. She was close with one of them and together, they often times would be "aggressive," Natalia said. 

"I landed on his arm wrong and mom thought I was trying to break his arm. That's when she was like 'I can't do this anymore.'"

At that point, she went to stay with another family. Natalia claims she was happy with the family, but said there was a "money issue."

Natalia with the Barnetts

Natalia was adopted by Michael and Kristine Barnett in June of 2010. Natalia said she thought this was going to be her permanent family. Dr. Phil asked Natalia if she felt loved.

"I did, at first," Natalia said. "I felt like I had found the right family."

Natalia said her first clue that things were going wrong was after one of her surgeries. She said Kristine Barnett began questioning her age. 

The parents claim Natalia tried to kill the family. McGraw showed Natalia Kristine's claims in her exclusive interview with Daily Mail. Kristine said there was evidence on her clothing that Natalia, then believed to be 8-years-old, had a menstrual cycle. Kristine also explained when she gave Natalia a bath, she saw she had pubic hair. 

"Kristine did not say anything about bloody clothing to me," Natalia said.

"She's been with us for almost seven years," said Cynthia Mans. "To this day, she has not had a menstrual."

Kristine Barnett also claimed in the interview with Daily Mail that Natalia would hide knives and put poison in their drinks.

"Did any of that happen?" McGraw asked.

"No. [Kristine] said that I hid knives on top of the fridge, under the fridge, in the cabinets, even on her office desk. I can't even reach her, not even with a chair. I couldn't reach [a fridge]."

McGraw then brings up Kristine's claim that she has footage of Natalia spraying "bleach in her coffee."

"It was lemon Pledge for tables," Natalia said. "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."

Natalia also disputes the Barnetts' claim that she would stand at the foot of their bed and hold a knife over them while they slept. 

"No, never."

"Did you ever want to stab them?" McGraw asks.

"No. I never went in their room...." Natalia said trailing off through tears. 

"She said you tried to push her into an electric fence?" McGraw continues to ask of the claims.

"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 in Lafayette

"They're trying to make her out to be this monster," said Cynthia Mans. 

The Mans said they said they met Natalia on the porch of an apartment. Court documents show that apartment was in the 900 block of North 11th Street in Lafayette. 

"My friend calls me and said, 'You need to come down here right away,'" said Cynthia Mans. "So I go over there and she [Natalia] is telling me she's 22. She's not 22. You could tell it was like, 'Yeah because that's what I was told to say.'"

Natalia, who claimed she was eight years old at the time, showed Cynthia the apartment. Cynthia said she had a TV, a bed and boxed food. Cynthia invited her over to meet the family, and she said Natalia found her new home.

"She never left," said Mans. 

"Is it like you to do something like that?" McGraw asked. 

"Not typically," said Mans. "My mother was like, 'There's no way she can take care of herself. We can't just leave her.'"

"So at eight years old, you're living alone in an apartment?" McGraw asked. "And you're getting your own groceries?"

"I actually didn't even go grocery shopping," said Natalia. "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."

"I have a granddaughter about that age, and I couldn't imagine her living in an apartment by herself," McGraw said. "What did they say to you when they took you over there and dropped you off? "

"They just said, 'We are going to get you an apartment and we are going to Canada,'" Natalia responded. "I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what was happening."

Natalia said the adult school that Kristine signed her up for was about a block away.

"A six or seven-year-old child living in an apartment for a year? That's just not believable to me," McGraw said. "How does that happen?"

"I think that [Kristine] groomed [Natalia] before she did this to have her ready," said Cynthia.

Natalia claims Kristine told her to tell anyone who asks that she was 22-years-old.

"When I was living in my first apartment, [Kristine] had me call the police on myself," said Natalia. "She told me to call them and tell them that I wanted to hurt others and I wanted to hurt myself. They came and put me in handcuffs and took me to one of the psychiatric hospitals, and I was out that same night. They said I wasn't crazy."

Natalia with the Mans

Natalia has now lived with Cynthia and Antwon Mans for about seven years. The couple claims nothing that Natalia has been accused of doing has happened at their home. 

"What I believe is that [Kristine] tried to discredit her with instability, mentally," said Antwon Mans. "When [Kristine] could not do that, they re-aged her." 

The Mans said they believe Kristine thought of Natalia as a burden. 

"We have other children," said Mans. "She does nothing but love her siblings."

Natalia Denies the Accusations

"[The Barnetts] say that you scammed them, that you lied about your age and came over here and terrorized them," McGraw said.

"That's not true at all," Natalia responds. 

"You say you're 16," Dr. Phil said towards Natalia. "Are you a 33-year-old scam artist?"

"No, no, no, I promise you I'm not," Natalia said through a laugh. 

McGraw replies, "I guess it comes down to whether or not you are an evil, psychopath demon child that's come over here to murder everybody."

--

A gag order was issued on Oct. 28 for the parents from speaking with the media about their adopted daughter's mental health, physical health or things they claimed happened while she was in their care. Online court records show Natalia was added to the gag order on Friday Nov. 1.

The story came to light in early September when Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Patrick Harrington filed formal charges against Michael and Kristine Barnett. According to court documents, the Barnetts adopted Natalia from Ukraine in June 2010. She has a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Barnetts had the girl's age tested, according to prosecutors. Court documents cite two doctors' reports from Peyton Manning Children's Hospital showing the girl's age to be about 8-years-old in 2010 and 11-years-old in 2012.

However, a doctor's report from IU Health, provided by Kristine Barnett, said otherwise. The report said the girl's records from Ukraine were "grossly incomplete."

"The birth certificate that was given to the Barnetts showed a date of birth of 9/4/3. This date is clearly inaccurate," the report said.

The report goes on to say the girl had been seen by a dentist and neuropsychologist, both of whom determined she had characteristics of a full-grown adult.

The Barnetts' son Jacob, a physics prodigy, was the feature of a "60 Minutes" report in 2012 highlighting the child's successes. The boy was offered to continue his education at the Perimeter Institute in Canada. The report even appears to show the girl.

Before they left, prosecutors said the Barnetts had the girl's age legally changed from 8-years-old to 22 in June 2012. 

The court documents said Kristine told the girl to tell others she just "looks young." In the Dr. Phil interview, Natalia said she complied. 

It was then in July 2013 that prosecutors said the Barnetts rented an apartment in the 900 block of North 11th Street in Lafayette for the girl. Prosecutors said the Barnetts paid for a year of rent, but nothing else for the girl before leaving with the rest of the family. 

Court documents show the girl was evicted from the property in May of 2014. A law enforcement source told News 18 that "neighbors took her under their wing."

It was in September 2014 that the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office was notified and interviewed the girl. A law enforcement source told News 18 they were called by an employee of the Excel Center, a free Indiana public school giving adults a chance to earn an Indiana high school diploma.

An employee told News 18 the girl actually only attended the Excel Center for four days, and she had come from many other schools. Next door neighbor, Margaret Axson, said she was friends with the Barnett girl in her classes. The two reportedly attended the Lafayette Adult Resource Academy (LARA) together. She said one day, the girl just stopped coming to class.

The girl told sheriff's deputies in 2014 she was abandoned by the Barnett Family.

The case went silent until the Tippecanoe County prosecutor filed the two neglect charges on Sept. 11, 2019. Affidavits said Michael Barnett was interviewed Sept. 5, 2019, and admitted he believed the girl was a minor in July 2013 when the couple left her in the apartment.

Arrest warrants were issued for the parents. Michael Barnett turned himself in at the Tippecanoe County Jail and posted bond on Sept. 18. Kristine Barnett did the same thing the next day.

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