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Natalia Grace, the woman who pretended to be a child

Natalia Grace was adopted at the age of six. After obscure behaviors, the parents began to doubt her age.

Natalia Grace was born on September 4, 2003, in Ukraine, the biological daughter of Anna Volodymyrivna Gava. As soon as she was born, she was diagnosed with congenital spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, a rare form of dwarfism.

Anna Gava reports that she put her daughter up for adoption after realizing that she would not be able to cope with the series of limitations imposed on her daughter from her diagnosis.

Barnett Family

Michael and Kristine Barnett were married and had three children. The couple’s eldest son was autistic and had above-average intelligence. By the age of 15, he had already won awards and given lectures.

Due to their son’s diagnosis, the Barnetts always organized parent meetings with autistic children and also had a Day Care at their home. The service focused on accommodating children with special needs.

Barnett Family. / Photo: Reproduction.

In early 2010, the couple was in their prime and decided it was time to adopt a child. They began the adoption process for a Haitian girl, but due to administrative issues, it couldn’t be completed.

Months later, the couple received a call from Florida saying they would be the perfect family for a six-year-old girl with limitations. The agency informed the couple that they had 24 hours to decide, and if they declined, the girl would be immediately placed in the national adoption system.

Michael Barnett recalls having a feeling of “doing the right thing.” On the same day, the couple flew to Florida to continue the process.

Adoption in 24 Hours

The couple didn’t see Natalia when she arrived; it was only half an hour later. Another adoptive couple had left her there, and they saw them come and go.

Upon meeting, Natalia came towards the couple with a smile and promptly called them mom and dad. Kristine says everything seemed perfect; the girl was the same age as her youngest son, and she thought they could grow up together like twin siblings.

Natalia Grace in one of her earliest photos. / Photo: Reproduction.

During the first week of adoption, the family decided to take a vacation in Florida. Natalia and her new siblings visited Disney and had a lot of fun in the company of their parents.

Strange Facts

Right on the first night, when Kristine went to give Natalia a bath, she noticed that the little girl already had pubic hair. She mentioned it to her husband, and a quick internet search revealed that the minimum age for this to occur would be eight years old.

Despite the search results, the couple decided not to dwell on it and instead show love and compassion for the new family member.

Upon returning home to Indiana, the family was going through an adjustment phase. Natalia often played with the neighborhood children.

During her routine household chores, Katherine was shocked to find that Natalia’s underwear was stained with blood. When she questioned the girl, she admitted that she had been menstruating for some time but was too embarrassed to tell her new parents.

That night, Katherine told the story to her husband, and both of them seemed to search for answers in a tangle of strange situations.

“Was Natalia Really Six Years Old?”

In the year 2010, the girl needed surgery on her feet to correct deformities. The Barnetts took the opportunity to perform a bone density test. The result corresponded to that of an 8-year-old child.

The doctor who conducted the examination mentioned that he knew another girl, a resident of Indiana, who had the same condition as Natalia. Coincidentally, both girls were the same age, and the Barnetts thought it would be great to meet this family that likely shared the same challenges.

They arranged a meeting. Upon arriving, the parents noticed many differences between the two girls of the same age. Natalia had a more defined face with less childlike features, and her diction and vocabulary were also far superior.

Michael Barnett recounts that on that occasion, Natalia realized she looked nothing like the other girl, despite sharing the same limitation. In an attempt to appear more childlike, she would puff up her cheeks with air, avoiding the contours of her face.

Back at home in the following days, Natalia shared details of her life in Ukraine before coming to the USA. The parents, aiming to make the environment more familiar, invited a neighbor who was also born in Ukraine for dinner.

Michael Barnett and Natalia Grace during a family outing. / Photo: Reproduction.

The woman, upon seeing the girl, began speaking in Ukrainian, and Natalia seemed to understand nothing. In a second attempt, the alphabet letters were shown to her, which she also didn’t recognize. After this episode, the girl went silent for four days without explaining why.

Dark Behavior

By this point, the entire Barnett family was feeling tension in the family dynamics. Natalia began to exhibit malicious and disturbing behaviors.

When the family went out in the car, she insisted on sitting next to her younger brother. Right there, she would relieve herself and rub it on her brother’s body. According to Michael, Natalia tried to jump out of the car a few times to attract the attention of pedestrians.

It became common for her to hide her siblings’ toys and blackmail them to get them back. The girl started hiding knives under pillows, placing thumbtacks on the stairs for her siblings to step on, and even telling her parents that she had a desire to see them dead.

The family kept this secret for a few months, partly because they believed it might be a phase of rebellion and partly because they didn’t know how to handle the onslaught of strange episodes since the adoption.

Natalia Grace. / Photo: Reproduction.

The pressure on the parents increased, and they decided to seek medical help. Natalia was taken to a therapist who, after a few consultations, diagnosed her with sociopathy; according to the doctor, she understood the impact of her actions and took pleasure in them.

Extreme Situations

There were two incidents where Michael woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that Natalia was watching them sleep. In the first instance, she said she was just observing them, and in the other, she had a knife, but she swore to her father that she didn’t know what she was doing.

The family continued with therapy and provided all the necessary care for the girl. However, everything seemed to be getting worse. On another occasion, Natalia asked to help Kristine with the dirty dishes, and the mother allowed her.

Seconds later, when Kristine returned to the kitchen, she noticed that Natalia was putting cleaning products into her coffee. The mother was shocked and asked why, Natalia responded coldly that she was trying to poison her.

Natalia was taken to a psychiatric center, but her admission was denied. The doctor stated that she should return home but be constantly monitored.

From that point on, Kristine started confronting her about her true identity. The two would argue a lot, and at times, the mother would leave the girl outside the house at night. Minutes later, Michael would go out and bring Natalia back in.

Witnessing one of these incidents, a neighbor called the police, and a report of neglect was made. Upon arriving at the scene and hearing the parents’ account, the detective in charge decided to launch an investigation to verify the girl’s real age.

The police managed to obtain Natalia’s Ukrainian birth certificate. It was discovered that her mother had abandoned her at the hospital. Documents from 2008, the year of her arrival in the USA, showed that the girl’s height had not changed. This was a strange fact even for children with dwarfism, who typically experience growth during childhood.

At the time, Natalia even admitted that she had been instructed to lie about her age at the Ukrainian orphanage, as appearing younger would make adoption easier. A new bone density test was conducted, and the result revealed the age of an eleven-year-old child.

The Family Seeks More Information

The Barnetts called the adoption agency requesting more accurate information about Natalia and her previous family. The agency refused to help and stated that the other family had explicitly said they didn’t want any further contact with the girl.

Later, moved by the situation, the agency secretary returned the call and reaffirmed to Michael that she couldn’t provide information but suggested he should inspect Natalia’s belongings.

Inside the suitcase, there was a document with the name of the previous parents. With this information, the Barnetts discovered that a few days before being adopted by them, Natalia was taken to a convention for people with dwarfism and offered for adoption.

At the time, there were no takers, so the first family began desperately seeking adoption agencies until the Barnetts were contacted and accepted Natalia. She spent less than a year with the first family, and they still refuse to discuss the case to this day.

In June 2012, the Barnetts filed a motion with the local judge, asking for their version to be heard and for Natalia’s age to be changed. Various medical reports and clinical claims from therapists were evaluated, and there was consistent data.

The judge ruled that Natalia’s age be changed to twenty-two years old. Her date of birth was altered to September 4, 1989.

The Last Straw

Despite the change in documents, the Barnetts decided not to abandon Natalia and give the family relationship another chance. On the birthday of the couple’s eldest son, the family decided to take a trip to a farm in the city of Indianapolis.

The farm had electric fences to prevent any animals from escaping.

As everyone walked around the area, about 10 meters from the fence, Natalia asked to sit down and rest, as her feet were hurting. Kristine said that Michael could continue with the children and that she would wait for Natalia.

A little further ahead, Michael heard screams and when he looked back, he realized that Kristine and Natalia were in a physical fight. The scene, according to him, seemed to indicate that the girl was pushing the adoptive mother towards the fence. Michael wanted to go back, but Kristine shouted that everything was under control.

Minutes later, the sound of sirens could be heard. Michael returned to the scene and found police and paramedics. Kristine insisted that they needed to restrain Natalia, that she had threatened her life and then pushed her towards the fence.

It was difficult for the police to comprehend the situation since Natalia appeared to be a helpless child. The girl was taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation.

During the brief period of hospitalization, staff reported that Natalia exhibited adult-like behavior and even discussed sexual matters with other patients. Two weeks later, Kristine received a call from the facility informing her that Natalia had been discharged.

The doctor informed the family that Natalia had been offering sexual favors to other inmates in exchange for money, and that’s why her discharge was expedited.


As her age had been changed, Natalia was now an adult. After leaving the hospital, she was placed under the care of the state. The Barnetts helped her with social documentation and obtaining food vouchers.

They also found an apartment for her, where they agreed to pay the first three months’ rent in advance. They also provided furniture and groceries.

Kristine and Michael visited Natalia sporadically. On days when they weren’t there, neighbors helped her with shopping. The adoptive parents instructed Natalia to tell everyone that she was an adult, but she could still be seen playing with children in the park.

Natalia Grace. / Photo: Reproduction.

Natalia Grace began to exhibit inappropriate behavior. She would take up a lot of her neighbors’ time, forcing lengthy conversations. When she noticed doors were unlocked, she would enter without being invited, open the refrigerator, and rummage through cabinets.

She often asked them for food, even though she was being financially supported. Some neighbors reported that she had a strong odor and wore the same clothes for many days, suggesting she wasn’t maintaining proper hygiene.

She also frequently visited adult men and spent hours at their homes. After a year of the rental contract, the landlord chose not to renew due to neighborhood complaints.

Natalia Grace Timeline. / Photo: Reproduction.

The Barnett couple had to find a new place for Natalia to live. She was allocated another apartment in a distant neighborhood. Meanwhile, the Barnett family decided to move to Canada since their eldest son had received a scholarship for a master’s degree in the country.

A New Family

At this location, Natalia met Antwon and Cynthia Mans during one of her outings to ask neighbors for food. The couple noticed that Natalia was not eating well and had difficulties with basic tasks, so they invited her to live in their home.

Cynthia Mans, Natalia Grace, and her new siblings. / Photo: Reproduction.

By this time, Kristine and Michael, who were living in Canada, were facing a crisis in their marriage. They gradually reduced contact with Natalia, even though they were still paying some of her expenses.

Two years later, the Mans family filed a request to legally adopt Natalia. They believed she was a 13-year-old child at the time, despite being aware of the facts that changed her age. The Barnetts opposed this, claiming she was an adult.

The judge denied the request. Nevertheless, she continued living with the couple and was raised as a child. According to the new family, she is a wonderful sister to the other children and has never exhibited any violent behavior.

Accused of Child Neglect

On September 11, 2019, the Barnetts were charged with child neglect for leaving Natalia behind in 2013, during the period she lived alone. The motion was based on new bone density tests that indicated Natalia was a child.

Natalia Grace today. / Photo: Reproduction.

They were arrested and released after each paying a $5,000 bail. The media became aware of the story; at this point, Michael and Kristine were no longer a couple but continued to assert that they were the real victims in this case.

Natalia appeared on television programs with her new family. The biological mother of the girl confirmed that she was born in 2003 and could not be an adult.

Excerpt from the interview with Dr. Phil. / Video: Youtube.

Jacob Barnett, one of the Barnett couple’s children, stated that his mother is not entirely innocent in the story, and Michael claims to have witnessed outbursts of violence from his ex-wife.

The former Barnett couple has police records of domestic violence and physical assault. Despite the child neglect charges being dropped, the couple continues to face charges of abandonment of an incapable person.

“The Curious Case of Natalia Grace”

In 2023, a documentary about the case was released on Discovery ID. Exclusive information can be found there, and you can hear both sides of the story with much more detail than I’ve provided here.

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