LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — A couple has been charged in a years-long investigation, accused of abandoning a girl in a Lafayette apartment and then leaving for Canada. Prosecutors say Michael and Kristine Barnett also legally changed the Ukranian girl's presumed age from 8-years-old to 22-years-old.
"This is going to end up on a TV show," a law enforcement officer told News 18 Thursday.
The investigation began five years ago. In Sept. 2014, the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office was contacted by a school principal about a student. Officers spoke to the girl who said she had a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal.
The girl told police she was adopted by the Barnetts in 2010. Court documents, filed Wednesday, said the family lived in Hamilton County for two years. Then, the girl told police the Barnetts rented an apartment on North 11th Street in Lafayette, left her alone and then moved with the rest of the family to Canada.
Before they left, prosecutors say the Barnetts had the girl's age legally changed to 22. The process by which her age was changed remains unclear. According to court documents, Kristine Barnett, also known as Kristine Pearson, told the girl to tell others she just "looks young." A law enforcement source told News 18 that "neighbors took her under their wing" and are cooperating in the investigation.
The couple admitted when interviewed Thursday Sept. 5, 2019 that they did not financially support the girl, other than paying rent, after leaving her in the apartment. They also admitted to changing the girl's age in June of 2012.
A police officer told News 18 the girl was enrolled at the Excel Center. According to its website, the center is a tuition-free high school which provides adults and older youth the opportunity to earn a Core 40 high school diploma, industry-recognized certifications and college credit.
The girl moved out of Tippecanoe County in Feb. 2016, according to court documents.
Michael and Kristine Barnett are both charged with two counts of neglect of a dependent. The couple has not been arrested, and no mugshot is available.
Michael Barnett has a listed address in the 6000 block of Michigan Road in Indianapolis. Kristine Barnett has an address listed in the 8000 block of E. 16th Place in Indianapolis.
This is a developing story. News 18 is working to learn more.