Ukrainian Adoptee Sits Down with Dr. Phil & Insists She's Not a '30-Year-Old Scam Artist'

Natalia Barnett
Dr. Phil/YouTube

On Thursday, the woman at the center of the Ukrainian adoption scandal that swept the Internet in September finally shared her side of the story. Appearing on an episode of Dr. Phil on Thursday, Natalia Barnett -- who was adopted by an Indiana couple in 2010 who later accused her of lying about her age and trying to kill them -- professed her innocence. She also insisted that if anyone is the victim in all of this, it's her

  • During the episode, Dr. Phil asked Natalia point-blank: "Are you a 33-year-old scam artist?"

    "They say that you scammed them," he said. "That you lied about your age and came over here and terrorized them."

    “It’s not true at all,” Natalia insisted, through tears.

    But according to her adoptive parents, Kristine Pearson and Michael Barnett (who have since divorced), it is. 

    The Barnetts say that when they adopted Natalia in 2010, they were told she was 8 years old, and had scoliosis as well as a form of dwarfism known as spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita. As the weeks and months passed, however, they began to believe otherwise. The first red flag appeared during a bath, when Kristine claims she noticed pubic hair on the girl and other physical signs that seemed to conflict with her age. 

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  • Natalia's behavior -- which allegedly turned violent -- also signaled to the Barnetts that something was wrong.

    Speaking with the Daily Mail in September, Kristine said the family was "terrorized" by Natalia for several years, during which she threatened them many times that she wanted to stab them in their sleep.

    "She would make statements and draw pictures saying she wanted to kill family members, roll them up in a blanket and put them in the backyard," Kristine told the newspaper. "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."

    Kristine also claimed that Natalia once pushed her toward an electric fence. And even worse, she said she caught her in the act of trying to poison her.

    "I saw her putting chemicals, bleach, Windex something like that, in my coffee and I asked her, 'What are you doing?'" Kristine recalled. "She said, 'I am trying to poison you.'"

  • It was for this reason that the Barnetts say they had the girl evaluated by several doctors, who claimed the girl's true age was 22.

    The former couple also said psychologists diagnosed her as being both a psychopath and a sociopath -- something that left them fearing for their own lives, as well as those of their two sons.

    The Barnetts ultimately decided to legally change her age to what they say they believed was accurate, before renting an apartment for her to live in, setting her up to be independent, and moving away.

    That was the last point of contact the Barnetts ever had with the "girl" they claimed "terrorized" their lives. But now -- some seven years after severing ties with Natalia -- they've been charged with abandonment, and a heated debate has ensued over how old the girl truly is.

    To believe the Barnetts, Natalia is 30. But according to Natalia, she's 16 -- and still very much a minor.

  • Speaking with Dr. Phil on Thursday, Natalia hoped to set the record straight.

    "How old are you?" Dr. Phil asked at one point during the interview.

    "Sixteen," Natalia replied, before stating that her birthdate is September 4, 2003 -- not September 4, 1988, as the Barnetts have claimed.

    Natalia explained that she was born in the Ukraine but brought over to the US as part of a program when she was 6, and lived with more than 30 families before the Barnetts adopted her.

  • Natalia also admitted to being removed from another home, where the mother thought she'd intentionally harmed their son.

    "I think it happened 'cause they had two boys, and one of the boys ... me and him were really close so we like wrestled almost," Natalia shared. "But I landed on his arm wrong, so the mom thought I was trying to break his arm. That's when she was like 'I can't do this anymore.'"

    When asked what the mother meant by that -- and if Natalia had caused her frustration before -- Natalia claimed to have no idea what the woman meant.

    Some time later, Natalia was placed with the Barnetts.

  • Natalia appeared on the show with her new foster parents, who say they've been caring for her for the last six years.

    Antwon and Cynthia Mans, who insist that Natalia has never done anything violent in the years since she's been with them, explained that they first met the girl more than a year after the Barnetts allegedly abandoned her. 

    "My friend called me and was like, 'You need to come down here right away,'" Cynthia recalled, of the day her friend met Natalia, and got to talking to her on her front porch. "'[This girl is] telling me she's 22, she's not 22,'" the friend told her.

    Cynthia shared that after meeting Natalia, and not believing that she was in fact 22, the girl cracked and told her the truth -- that her adoptive parents had abandoned her and that she was really just a child. 

    The Mans immediately took her in, and they have cared for her like one of their own children ever since.

  • Dr. Phil showed serious doubt over whether he believes Natalia's true age could truly be 16.

    The part of the story that Dr. Phil just couldn't wrap his mind around is just how an 8-year-old could survive on their own for so long.

    "I have a granddaughter about that age," he told Natalia, "and I can't imagine her living in an apartment by herself."

    What's more, Natalia said she lived on her own for a year -- while attending a school for adults -- before moving to another apartment. Less than two months later, she met the Mans.

    "Here's what I know about children that are in group homes," Dr. Phil explained. "They're almost always developmentally delayed ... so if you come here from a group home at 6, best case you're probably functioning developmentally at 4 or 5. So you go into an apartment functioning at 6 or 7. A 6 or 7-year-old child living in an apartment alone for a year? That's just not believable to me."

    To that, Cynthia countered that she believed the Barnetts "groomed" Natalia to be able to care for herself. That, coupled with the fact that Michael Barnett was paying her bills, is what allegedly allowed Natalia to fly under the radar for so long.

  • On Thursday, Dr. Phil also appeared on 'Good Morning America,' where he weighed in some more with his final thoughts on the bizarre story.

    Speaking with George Stephanopoulos, Dr. Phil said he actually doesn't think even Natalia knows her true age.

    "I certainly don't think this individual is 30 years old," he said. "So I think the court has done a real miscarriage of justice here in reading her the way they have. I don't think there's really medical support for that."

    Ultimately, he found Natalia convincing and articulate, and thinks the Barnetts were in the wrong. He also questioned how anyone could leave their child alone -- especially before moving out of the country.

    "When you adopt a child, that child is yours -- just the same as if you birthed that child at the hospital," he told Stephanopoulos. "I didn't know that you could quit ... just drop 'em off somewhere."

    Kristine Pearson and Michael Barnett have both pleaded not guilty to charges of neglect. Their next scheduled court appearance will be in December, according to WLFI.