The Curious Case of Natalia Grace shocked the world when it came out last year. It told the story of a family in Indiana, the Barnetts, who adopted a girl originally from Ukraine whom they purported to not be 6 years old as her birth certificate claimed, but an adult. More shockingly, in a twist mirroring the 2009 film The Orphan, they claimed this grown woman was trying to murder her new family. In 2012, they had her legally re-aged from 8 to 22 and placed her in a series of apartments on her own before moving out of the country. Now a follow-up series, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks, examines this wild case from the perspective of the young woman herself who proved, in the first episode through DNA testing, that she is now in her early 20s. While much of the information covered in Natalia Speaks was revealed in the original docuseries, the new series dropped some real bombshells over the course of six episodes.
Content warning: This article includes descriptions of child abuse and sexual violence.
Natalia Grace’s age was determined by multiple doctors while she was living with the Barnetts.
Kristine and Michael Barnett have claimed that not only did they have genuine questions about Natalia’s age, but they had no trustworthy medical records to indicate that she was, in fact, 6 years old when they adopted her. And yet records show that no fewer than four doctors confirmed that Natalia was a child between 2010, when she was adopted by the Barnetts, and 2012, when the Barnetts had her age changed to 22.
Natalia Speaks shows that within two weeks of her adoption, they had access to a report from an endocrinologist, Dr. Andrew Riggs, who put Natalia’s age at somewhere between 9 and 11. The estimate, while older than 6, still solidly places her in childhood. Moreover, Kristine brought Natalia to a family dentist, Dr. Tim Gossweiler, whose X-rays showed that Natalia not only still had 12 baby teeth in her mouth, but her adult teeth were visible beneath them. He determined her age to be between 6 and 9 years old, calling his ruling “indisputable” proof that she was a child.
This augments existing evidence, uncovered by BuzzFeed in 2019, that the Barnetts took Natalia to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in 2012 for a bone density test and a skeletal survey, both of which determined she was a child.
The Barnetts claimed Natalia was a closed adoption, but they emailed with her first adoptive family.
Michael Barnett has claimed that Natalia came to their family via a closed adoption, and yet in Natalia Speaks, Natalia claims to have seen the Barnetts and the Ciconnes go into a room together on her adoption day. This alone wouldn’t necessarily be a bombshell or smoking gun: Natalia was little when this happened and memory can be a funny thing. But...
The series also presents email exchanges between the Barnetts, the adoption agency, and Natalia’s former adopted family, the Ciconnes. So, based on the docuseries, not only was this not a truly closed adoption but it would seem the Barnetts had more information about Natalia when they adopted her than they said they did.
There appears to be motivation behind adopting Natalia.
Natalia Speaks highlights a theory as to what went awry between Natalia and the Barnetts and it essentially boils down to Kristine’s ambitions. Prior to adopting Natalia, Kristine had made a name for herself as a mom who nurtured her autistic eldest son, Jacob, and allowed him to reach his full potential as a math and science prodigy. Jacob enrolled in college at just 10 years old. He and Kristine were featured in a 2012 segment of 60 Minutes and were the subjects of numerous fawning newspaper and magazine articles. She received, according to Natalia Speaks, a $600,000 advance for a ghostwritten book The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism.
In Natalia Speaks, subjects speculate that Natalia’s adoption was Kristine’s attempt to not only enhance her image, but to recreate the success she had with Jacob with Natalia. Kristine, some believe, wanted to reveal Natalia to be powerfully talented and gifted, but Natalia’s educators from her elementary school revealed that the girl performed at grade level. It wasn’t long before Kristine pulled Natalia from the school to educate her at home. While Kristine had alleged that the school complained about Natalia’s bad behavior, specifically hurting other children with her wheelchair, the school and Natalia’s teacher deny these allegations in the docuseries, stating that she was well-behaved and kind.
Moreover, this theory also suggests that saying Natalia was 22 was a calculated move: the documentary states that in Indiana, parents are materially responsible for their children through the age of 21. Saying Natalia was 22 would, under typical circumstances, exculpate the Barnetts from continued care. But because of Natalia’s particular form of disability, statutes dictated that since she required assistance in daily life, they would potentially remain responsible for her in some capacity for the rest of her life.
Natalia alleges profound abuse by Kristine Barnett.
While Michael Barnett detailed Kristine allegedly physically abusing Natalia while she was in her care, Natalia paints an even darker picture, alleging abuse ranging from beatings to humiliation to attempted murder. In addition to being hit with belts and “dropped” by her older brother (Natalia and Michael have both alleged that Kristine encouraged their sons to beat Natalia as a form of discipline), Natalia additionally alleges that Kristine pepper sprayed her twice (once with no provocation whatsoever); forced her to dress up like a gnome and stand in a fixed pose for hours; forced her to use a tampon at 7 years old, despite not having a period, and then pointing to ensuing bleeding to “prove” that she was in fact menstruating; and intentionally giving her more medication than she needed in, Natalia believes, an effort to overdose her.
Though Kristine declined participation in both The Curious Case of Natalia Grace and Natalia Speaks, she refuted allegations of abuse and mistreatment in a lengthy post on Facebook. “Natalia was a very much loved and cared for member of my family. She was not abused by anyone in my family,” her statement reads in part. She also called the docuseries “highly sensationalized.”
Natalia’s life in Ukraine was traumatic and may have involved sexual abuse.
Little is known about Natalia’s life prior to coming to live with the Barnetts, including her earliest childhood in Ukraine. But in the series, Natalia recalls some hazy memories from her time there, including being “chased” by someone wearing a scary green mask (a former FBI expert suggests this might have been a terrible but effective tactic for understaffed orphanages to keep the children in line); being drugged via injection; having her face covered and awaking to find herself in the presence of a man she didn’t know; and possibly even having a foster family. Archival footage of an interview between Natalia and the FBI’s Child Crimes investigator in 2014 shows Natalia describing sexual assault while she was still in Ukraine, when she could not have been older than 5.
Natalia was officially adopted by the Mans family, whom she has lived with since 2013.
While Natalia is legally 34 today (her age change has not been reversed despite copious medical evidence that she is in her early 20s), and is by any measure an adult today, she was formally adopted by Cynthia and Antwon Mans, who she refers to has her mom and dad on June 1, 2023. Her name is now Natalyah Grace Renee Mans. (Renee is also Cynthia’s middle name and, fittingly means “rebirth.”)
Natalia Speaks hints at trouble between Natalyah and the Mans family in the last moments of the series.
While the documentary ends on a positive note, the epilogue of the series shares a “shocking” phone call they received two weeks ago, six months after Natalyah’s adoption from the Manses. While we don’t get the conversation in its entirety, snippets indicate some sort of problem facing the family.
“Something ain’t right with Natalyah,” Antwon can be heard saying. “This girl is tweaking ... I feel like she’s the enemy in the house ... and she said to us we have held her hostage ... Made us look like we’re the enemy.”
“Natalyah is stabbing her family in the back over a complete lie,” Cynthia adds.
“She’s done other things too,” Antwon continues in this partial conversation, “But this was a new low ... Natalyah does not have emotions for nothing but herself ... We’re done. We’re done with her.”
Could this be a case of salacious editing? Has there been a falling out between Natalyah and the pair she’s called her parents for a decade? Whatever the answer, it seems this is less the next chapter in the young woman’s life, but a new story.