Fooling around with her five siblings, singing in church and beaming from ear to ear, this is ‘abandoned’ Natalia Barnett, living with a Christian couple who consider her their teen daughter.
Three-foot tall Natalia, who suffers from a rare form of dwarfism, is at the center of an extraordinary criminal case that saw her adoptive parents Kristine and Michael Barnett charged with neglect for moving to Canada without her in 2013.
But depending on whom you believe, the bubbly, baby-faced ‘youngster’ is either a 16-year-old girl – or a 30-year-old ‘sociopath’ masquerading as a child.
For, in a twist worthy of a Hollywood movie, Kristine Barnett claimed in an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com last week that she can prove Ukrainian-born Natalia is secretly a grown up suffering from a severe psychiatric illness.
Mom-of-three Kristine, 45, further alleged that her family are the true victims, having been scammed into adopting an adult in 2010 who went on to terrorize and try to kill them.
As the bewildering case prepares to play out in court, a DailyMail.com investigation can today reveal Natalia has found a new home with a Christian couple from Indiana and their five kids.
New family: Natalia Grace Barnett (right) now lives with her new family who took her in after she claimed her parents abandoned her in 2013
Natalia’s new father figure, Antwon Mans, was recently ordained as a pastor and lives in a former church parsonage with his wife Cynthia. Approached this week outside their rented four-bed home an hour from Indianapolis, Antwon Mans refused to discuss Natalia’s case with DailyMail.com
DailyMail.com can reveal the devout couple are aware of the questions swirling around the true age of their Ukrainian ‘daughter’ – but declined to comment when approached
The couple is believed to have come into contact with Natalia sometime between 2013 and 2016 – when they sought legal guardianship. A caption on Cynthia’s Facebook page declares: ‘Adoption is love’
Natalia’s new father figure, 36-year-old Antwon Mans, was recently ordained as a pastor and lives in a former church parsonage with his wife Cynthia, 39.
DailyMail.com understands the devout couple are aware of the questions swirling around the true age of their Ukrainian ‘daughter’, who is barely taller than a toddler because of the bone disorder, spondyloepimetaphyseal dysplasia.
But images posted to social media make clear they treat the diminutive female as a child, dressing her in colorful kids clothes and captioning a photo of Natalia and a young playmate: ‘sweetest best friends ever.’
A family friend told DailyMail.com she considered the Mans to be ‘Good Samaritans’ who came across an abandoned child in need of help and welcomed her into their hearts.
‘The Mans care for Natalia and she likes being there,’ said the friend. ‘There’s nothing crazy going on or anything. These are good people.
‘They just so happened to come across this person that was not being treated right and cared enough to put in the effort to make sure something was done about it. If it’s true that her parents had abandoned her, it’s horrible.
‘I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist but I’ve spoken with Natalia and I believe her. If you’re asking me if I think she is 30, that’s ridiculous.’
Despite a 2012 court ruling that declared Natalia an adult, she has remained a fixture in the Mans’ lives ever since, appearing at family outings, joining them in church and featuring in regular Facebook updates
Photos posted to social media make clear they treat the diminutive female as a child, dressing her in colorful kids clothes. One Snapchat photo of Natalia and Antwon Mans is captioned: ‘I love u daddy so much’
The Mans tried to become Natalia’s legal guardians in 2016 but court records show they later withdrew their petition after the court upheld an earlier ruling that she was born in 1989 and not 2003.
Nevertheless she has remained a fixture in their lives ever since, appearing at family outings, joining them in church and featuring in regular Facebook updates.
‘They’ve already tried to speak to Natalia’s adopted parents and tried to go through the courts,’ added the friend. ‘They are just not getting anywhere and now this is escalating.
‘She is just in a really awkward position and they are trying to help her out. There’s actually very limited things they can do for her because people are saying she’s 30. She can’t even go to high school.’
Records show the Mans have also sought guardianship for several of their other children.
A caption on former McDonald’s manager Cynthia’s Facebook page declares: ‘Adoption is love’.
Another post, an apparent joke aimed at her kids, reads: ‘My Daughter. The sweetest. Most beautiful. Loving, Amazing. Evil, psychotic creature you’ll ever meet.’
Kristine and Michael Barnett, 43, were experienced foster parents themselves when they decided to adopt Natalia in April 2010, believing she had been in the US two years and was six years old.
Social media photos show she was taken in by Christian couple Antwon Mans (pictured) 36, and wife Cynthia, and their five kids in Crawfordsville, Indiana
A family friend told DailyMail.com she considers the Mans to be ‘Good Samaritans’ who came across an abandoned child in need of help and welcomed her into their hearts
Above is the home that is attached to the church that Pastor Antwon Mans and Cynthia
They soon harbored doubts about her true age when they noticed she had public hair, was having periods and possessed a vocabulary way beyond her years.
When Natalia began to suffer severe mental health problems they sought the advice of experts who agreed she was likely far older than her birth certificate suggested.
Medical reports from 2012 state that Natalia had admitted to being ‘at least 18’ and was ‘perpetuating the age misconceptions in order to be treated as a child by parents and strangers’.
That same year Kristine and Michael Barnett, who have since divorced, lodged an emergency petition with Marion Superior Court to have Natalia’s date of birth revised.
With the stroke of a judge’s pen her birthday was legally changed from September 4, 2003 to September 4, 1989, altering Natalia’s age from eight to 22.
Kristine Barnett says that meant her adopted daughter could finally get the appropriate treatment she needed as an adult.
By then, she told DailyMail.com, Natalia had attacked other kids, poured bleach in her coffee and threatened to stab family members and hide their bodies in the backyard.
Kristine and Michael Barnett, 43, were experienced foster parents themselves when they decided to adopt Natalia (pictured with her new siblings) in April 2010, believing she had been in the US two years and was six years old
A friend close to the family dismissed claims Natalia was actually 30 years old as ‘ridiculous’
‘She was standing over people in the middle of the night. You couldn’t go to sleep. We had to hide all the sharp objects,’ Barnett said in our exclusive interview.
‘I saw her putting chemicals, bleach, Windex something like that, in my coffee and I asked her, what are you doing? She said, I am trying to poison you.’
‘The media is painting me to be a child abuser but there is no child here.’
Kristine Barnett, 45, (pictured) and ex-husband Michael Barnett, 43 have been charged with abandoning their daughter, then 9, in Lafayette, Indiana, and fleeing to Canada in 2013. But Kristine denies the claims and says she and Michael were victims of a fraud, stating the girl they adopted was an adult con artist who tried to kill her
What’s not in dispute is that the Barnetts packed up and left suburban Indianapolis in summer 2013 so Jake, the oldest of their three sons and a child prodigy with a form of autism, could attend a prestigious physics institute in Ontario, Canada.
Natalia stayed in Indiana but they deny abandoning her, insisting they rented her an apartment in Lafayette and tried their best to keep in touch.
And crucially, they say the majority of the medical evidence concludes that Natalia was a grown up at the time, not a child.
Prosecutors in Tippecanoe County see things very differently, however, accusing the couple of felony neglect by endangering the life or health of a dependent and denying her necessary support and an education.
A probable cause affidavit obtained by DailyMail.com cites a series of bone density tests carried out on Natalia at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in 2010 and 2012
The first estimated she was approximately eight years old while the second suggested she was 11.
The affidavit also refers to a 2014 interview with Natalia who told a detective that her parents left her alone at the Lafayette apartment and she never saw them again.
Michael Barnett surrendered to authorities on September 18 and was released on $5,000 bail. A hearing was set for September 2. Kristine Barnett surrendered to authorities on Thursday, September 19 and was released after posting a $5,500 bond.
The couple showered Natalia with attention, taking her to Disney World, enjoying ice creams, treats and playful pillow fights with her three brothers to slowly bring her out of her shell
Bishop Mans and his wife appear to have come into Natalia’s life sometime between 2013 and early 2016 when they lodged their application to become her legal guardians, describing themselves as her ‘caretakers’.
Their March 2016 filing describes Natalia as an ‘alleged incapacitated person … approximately 13 or 14 years of age, born September 4 (year uncertain)’.
The document, filed in Tippecanoe Circuit Court, states that Natalia earns $733 per month in Social Security Disability payments.
But it adds: ‘Natalia Grace Barnett is unable to maintain and care for her financial affairs and person as she is actually a minor abandoned by her adoptive parents’.
When Michael Barnett lodged an objection, the Manses sought a hearing to invalidate the 2012 court decision that ‘re-aged’ Natalia and asked a new judge to restore her original birth date.
Details of the ensuing April 2016 proceedings are not publicly available and Natalia’s guardian ad litem Ladona E. Sorenson, an independent family attorney appointed by the court to protect her best interests, said she was unable to comment.
The Manses’ attorney, Michael B. Troemel, did not return calls but Terrance Kinnard, who represented Michael Barnett, said the application was turned down.
‘Natalia was living on her own and a couple wanted to become her guardians. Thinking she was still a child, the couple tried to overturn the 2012 result,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘This time the hearing was even more in depth, not only did the judge look at medical reports and other documents, but witnesses came before the court to explain why they were certain Natalia had been 22.
‘The judge upheld the original results and the couple dropped the guardianship petition.’
The Mans did indeed withdraw their bid for guardianship in January 2018 and it was dismissed without prejudice.
Approached this week outside their rented four-bed home an hour from Indianapolis, Antwon Mans refused to discuss Natalia’s case with DailyMail.com.
Cynthia Mans asked our reporter to leave the property, which used to be part of a neighbouring church but has since been converted into a family house, adding: ‘We don’t have anything to comment on.’