LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — A friend of the mother accused in a strange Tippecanoe County child neglect case said the Barnett Family was 'scammed' into their adoption. The friend said Kristine Barnett is just as confused as the rest of us.
News 18 has been working for answers since charges were filed earlier this month in a case that has been in the works for most of this decade.
Michael and Kristine Barnett are both charged with child neglect. The two are accused of adopting a Ukranian girl with dwarfism, changing her age legally from 8 to 22-years-old, leaving her in a Lafayette apartment and then leaving with the rest of the family for Canada. One of Kristine's friends says, that's not true.
The friend spoke to News 18 on the basis of anonymity Monday. The information is unverified by News 18.
"She just found out two weeks ago through the media that she's in trouble," the friend said of Kristine.
News 18 is choosing not to name the girl, due to her age uncertainty.
The friend said the girl had dwarfism and severe mental health issues when the Barnetts adopted her in 2010. The girl reportedly had lived with other families for two years, prior to the Barnett family adopting her. According to the friend, the girl physically attacked the family and caused a "traumatic adoption experience." The family believed the girl was older than they were told. The friend says the court accepted a doctor's report saying the girl was actually an adult. The documents are unverified.
"She said there were two trials years ago to re-age the girl," Kristine told the friend. "It wasn't like its something the State doesn't know happened. She's very confused as to why all of this were to come up."
News 18 was unable to contact Kristine Barnett's attorney during that case.
After the girl's age was legally changed, the friend said the Barnetts helped her get housing in Lafayette. The friend said the girl was supposedly living on her own under the care of doctors.
However, court documents, filed Sept. 11 in Tippecanoe County said differently, raising more questions than answers. Prosecutors determined the Barnetts abandoned the girl in Lafayette in 2013. Court documents cite two doctors' reports where they say the girl's age was about 8-years-old in 2010 and 11-years-old in 2012.
"The media reports sound like she left this small child in an apartment for years," said the friend. "Her side of the story is that 'no, that did not happen.' They went through all the legal trials. One initial and one to re-age, where it was upheld by the court with doctor testimony. That's why she's confused."
A "60 Minutes" report in 2012 documented the successes of their son Jacob, a physics prodigy. The family moved to Canada for the boy to continue his education at the Perimeter Institute. The report even appears to show the girl.
"She never fled to Canada like all the reports say," said the friend. "This is what she has told me. Once the girl was re-aged, they helped her find an apartment. She even told me she was given SSI (supplemental security income), which you have to be over 18 to get."
Many of the residences in the 900 block of N. 11th Street, where the girl lived, are homes divided into several units. Court documents show the Barnett girl was evicted from the apartment in May of 2014.
Margaret Axson has lived on N. 11th Street for 23 years. She said she was friends with the Barnett girl in her classes at the Lafayette Adult Resource Academy.
"She lived in the next house," said Axson. "She lived upstairs. I befriended her at school."
Axson said one day, she just stopped coming to class.
"The county police knocked on my door one day, and of course I took them next door," said Axson.
"Do you know what happened?" Axson asked News 18. "They were going to try to put her somewhere."
News 18 also learned the Barnett girl attended the Excel Center in Lafayette. However, an employee told News 18 she actually only attended classes for four days before employees contacted the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office. The Excel Center provided the following statement from Cindy Graham, Vice President of Marketing at Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana:
"Our Excel Center school officials took appropriate action at the time. We do not release information in our records and have no further comment."
Axson would just like to know where the girl ended up. She said she believes the girl was an adult, since she attended Lafayette Adult Resource Academy.
"She had to be 18," Axson said
The friend said Kristine Barnett has spent her life working for children on the autism spectrum.
"She works with families in her SPARK method," the friend said. "It's an alternative way of teaching kids with autism. You join with the child instead of forcing them to do what you want them to do, you join in their activities, connect and then you can bring them into your world."
According to the friend, Kristine wants to tell her story but is being advised not to in order to not sensationalize the case.
"When she found out there was going to be a warrant out for her arrest, she drove halfway across the country and turned herself right in."
News 18 is continuing to try and speak with the adopted girl at the center of the case. Court documents say she left Tippecanoe County in 2016.
The next step in the case is a telephone hearing Tuesday in Tippecanoe County for Michael Barnett, according to online records.