Death of 3-year-old Russian boy in Texas flares up row on US adoptions

MOSCOW / WASHINGTON – Russian officials have accused a Texas woman of fatally beating a 3-year-old boy she had adopted from Russia, as the US. State Department countered Russian criticism of how American authorities are handling the case.

The death of the boy has set off a new wave of outrage in Russia.

“What is very troubling about this case is that the Russians are making very wild accusations against the (adoptive) parents before they have information,” a senior US State Department official told CNN.

“I think it is irresponsible of the Russians to say the parents did x, y or z before we find out what happened.”

In West Texas, the Ector County Medical Examiner’s Office is investigating the case because of the “suspicious” nature of the boy’s death, investigator Kim Harrington said.

Russian officials Tuesday met with the boy’s adoptive parents and his surviving brother, also adopted from Russia, after the State Department coordinated the session through Texas Child Protective Services. U.S. officials said.

The boy, Max Shatto, and his younger brother left a Russian orphanage late last year with their adoptive parents, Laura and Alan Shatto, who live in the West Texas community of Gardendale.

On Jan. 21, the day Max died, Texas child welfare authorities received a report of his death, as well as accusations of physical abuse and neglect.

A spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said on Tuesday that the death was being investigated. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, said that the investigation would be completed in about two weeks and that appropriate actions would be taken.

The boy’s death shot to the top of the national news in Moscow on Tuesday, when Russia’s prosecutorial investigative committee opened a criminal inquiry into what it called “the murder of a 3-year-old Russian boy, Maksim Kuzmin, by his adoptive mother in the U.S.”

Last year, President Vladimir V. Putin signed into law a ban on all adoptions by Americans, and scores of families are still hoping to complete adoptions that were in their final stages.

The United States embassy in Moscow released a statement warning that “it would be irresponsible to draw conclusions about the death or assign guilt before autopsy results are analyzed and an investigation is carried out.”

But few seemed inclined to wait in Russia, where a prime-time news anchor called the boy “the 20th Russian child killed in the U.S.A. by his adoptive parents.” Politicians described the reaction of American officials as callous.

“The information we received I would stress once again, from the American authorities is shocking,” Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s human rights commissioner, told the Voice of Russia radio station.

“The 3-year-old boy has been repeatedly beaten by his American mother, and when the autopsy was performed, they found that his entire body was covered in bruises.”

He went on to say that Max had been given an antipsychotic medication that is prescribed for “very advanced forms of schizophrenia in adults.”

“We hope that if the investigation finds that his American parents are guilty of his killing his assassination we hope that, of course, they will be brought to justice,” he said.

The authorities in Texas were more cautious in their remarks, saying they were awaiting the results of an investigation.

Patrick Crimmins of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said his agency had not received any previous accusations of abuse against the Shatto family, and declined to offer any details about signs of physical neglect or abuse.

“We may want to wait for a medical examiner’s report and/or toxicology results,” he said in a statement.

In the meantime, he said, Max’s younger brother remains in the Shatto home. “We are monitoring the household to ensure his safety,” he said.

Reports of Max’s death led to a temporary halt to all adoptions in the Pskov region, from which both Max and Dima Yakovlev had been adopted.

“A savage crime has been committed in America once again,” said the region’s governor, Andrei Turchak, according to the Interfax news service. He went on to say that his office would take immediate steps to return Max’s brother, Kirill, to Russia.

“Kirill cannot stay in the U.S. any longer,” Mr. Turchak said. “The child will simply change hands. American laws do not prohibit that. It will traumatize the child even more. He is not a dog or a car. Kirill must return to the Pskov region.”

The case of the 3-year-old’s death has aggravated State Department efforts to push through more than 500 adoption cases in which American families have already begun the process to adopt a Russian child before Moscow in December passed a law banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

Officials said, including the death in Texas, 20 of about 60,000 Russian children adopted by Americans in the past two decades have died in the United States.

Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s special representative for human rights, said the child suffered injuries to his head and legs, as well as to his abdomen and internal organs. The wounds, he said, “could only be caused by strong blows.”

Americans adopted close to 1,000 Russian children last year, according to U.S. State Department figures.

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