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Who is Natalia Grace, the adopted child accused by her parents of being an adult in disguise?

“One thing has always proven to be true with Natalia’s story — nothing is ever what it seems.”
Natalia Grace's adoptive parents say in a docuseries that she was actually an adult when they adopted her. In a responding docuseries, she says she was just a kid who needed a family.Investigation Discovery via YouTube
/ Source: TODAY

The world is talking about Natalia Grace, the Ukrainian orphan with a rare dwarfism condition, whose legal battle with her former adoptive parents Kristine and Michael Barnett has garnered "made-for-TV" attention.

Grace's complicated life is covered in Investigation Discovery's new six-hour docuseries “The Curious Case of Natalia Grace: Natalia Speaks," which is available to stream on Max. The series is a follow-up to "The Curious Case of Natalia Grace," released in May 2023.

In 2010, Grace was adopted by Indiana couple Michael and Kristen Barnett, who have three biological sons. As Michael explained in the first episode of the docuseries, at the time of the adoption, Grace's Ukrainian birth certificate showed her birthday as Sept. 4, 2003, meaning Grace would have been 6 years old.

Michael said the family quickly began to suspect that Grace was a fully grown adult masquerading as a child. In the first episode of season one, he also said that Grace harbored an evil streak, wanting to harm their three sons. In season one of the docuseries, Michael says Grace tried to kill Kristine by poisoning her coffee cup and by pulling her into an electric fence.

Natalia has denied trying to hurt the Barnetts and maintains that she was a minor at the time of her adoption. In 2019, NBC News obtained court documents that stated hospital records from 2010 approximated Grace’s age as 8 while hospital records from 2012 showed she was about 11. A dentist who appeared in the docuseries said that based on 2011 X-rays of Natalia, her age was about 8 or 9.

In 2012, the Barnetts successfully changed Grace's birth certificate to reflect a 1989 birth year, they recall in season two of the docuseries. They rented an apartment for Grace to live in alone, dropped her off and moved to Canada. Grace has since been cared for by another Indiana couple, Bishop Antwon and Cynthia Mans. Michael said in the first season of the docuseries that the Mans met Grace when she was living alone and moved her into their home three days after they met. reached out to attorneys for Natalia Grace, Michael and Kristine Barnett, and also attempted to contact Antwon and Cynthia Mans. None of them replied to a request for comment.

Michael and Kristine, who are now divorced, were charged with felony neglect of a dependent. In 2022, Michael was acquitted and in 2023, Kristen’s charges were dismissed.

In "Natalia Speaks," which aired earlier this month, Grace confronts Michael face-to-face and a DNA test reveals her current age as approximately 22, which would mean she was in fact a child when she was adopted.

"The Barnetts tried to paint me as this big monster," Grace said in the latest installment of the docuseries. "I literally lost my childhood."

What did Michael and Kristine Barnett say about Natalia Grace?

"I can't put into words the everyday abject horror that we had to go through and live with," Michael said of his family's experience with Grace in the 2023 documentary series.

In the first season of the docuseries, Michael said he and Kristine started doubting Grace's age when during bath time, they noticed she had body hair. In the same episode, Michael recalled they discovered that she menstruated. Natalia replied in season two that the blood was the result of Kristine forcing her to use tampons when she was 7.

Four months into her adoption, Michael said in the first season of the docuseries, Grace's "dark side" emerged as she provoked his children by hiding their toys or throwing them into the street, and urinating on his youngest son. In the same episode, Michael said Grace jumped out of the family car in public spaces with the engine running in order to appear as a "poor, helpless little girl."

What does Natalia Grace say?

"This is a 1,000-piece puzzle and I think I have only 300 pieces together," Grace said in the January Investigation Discovery series. "I want you to know how old I am. I want you to know about my past because I want to know too ... I want the puzzle to be complete."

According to Grace, Michael and Kristine borrowed from the plot of a 2009 horror film titled "The Orphan," about an adoptee with a dark agenda who turned out to be much older, to craft their narrative.

In season two of the docuseries, Grace addressed the Barnett's claim that they awoke one night to find her standing at the foot of their bed holding a knife. An impossibility, said Grace, given her poor grip and inability to see over their bed frame.

"It's a lie," said Grace, adding, "I'm an 8-year-old, 37-pound little girl ... I never tried to murder anybody.”

"Kristine is the real monster," said Grace. "Michael is an accomplice to the monster."

In season two, Grace also denied trying to poison Kristine by pouring a cleaning product into her coffee cup and stating, "I want to kill you." She said that Kristine had beat her regularly and she forced Grace to spray cleaner inside her cup, for a staged scene on camera.

In 2012, after the Barnetts had Grace committed to a psychiatric facility, a judge legally changed Grace's birth year to 1989.

After Michael was acquitted last year, he reached out to Grace with an olive branch. Their first reunion in season two of the docuseries was brief and explosive, with Michael storming out after an argument with Grace’s now-adoptive father Bishop Antwon Mans. In their second meeting, Michael sobbed while apologizing to Grace, who said she forgave him.

Kristine Barnett did not respond to requests for comment from the docuseries, through she called it a "highly sensationalized show" in a Jan. 4 Facebook post. Kristine said on Facebook that Grace "was a very much loved and cared for member of my family" and called the discipline "very minimal" and "not out of the bounds of normal parenting."

Kristine added, "I have had good and bad days as a mom. There were many days raising four children (that) I depended on the power of coffee to get me through the day ... Anyone who has children knows that feeling of going to bed at night hoping you have done the right things and enough for your children on a daily basis. I am sure there were plenty of fails and some successes I had as a parent and mom but I was not abusive to my children."

"The fact that these false allegations are occurring after a trial with evidence which was dismissed is disturbing," wrote Kristine. "It’s like being assumed guilty after being proven innocent."

What do Natalia Grace's new adoptive parents say?

In June 2023, Grace was adopted by Indiana couple Antwon and Cynthia Mans, her guardians of approximately 10 years, in an emotional court ceremony filmed in the last episode of the docuseries, titled "One Door Closes."

"Being adopted, it's an awesome thing," said Grace in the season finale. "Especially when you find that perfect family."

Their happy ending sours, however. According to the docuseries, six months after Grace's adoption, the producers received a call from Antwon and Cynthia Mans.

"Something ain’t right with Natalia," Antwon said in a recorded call. "This girl is tweakin’. 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.”

Cynthia said on the call, a recording of which was played on the finale, “Natalia is stabbing her family in the back over a complete lie.”

"She's done other things too," said Antwon. "But this was a new low. Natalia does not have emotions for nothing but herself. We're done. We're done with her."

A message on the screen reads, "Natalia's story will continue."

As Jason Sarlanis, the president of crime and investigative content at Investigation Discovery, told The Hollywood Reporter, “Our series was already finished and locked, but we instantly mobilized with our producers to ensure that this shocking development was included in our finale. Our viewers are so invested in Natalia’s case we felt our series needed to reflect the constantly shifting truth of her situation."

He added, "One thing has always proven to be true with Natalia’s story — nothing is ever what it seems.”