WASHINGTON, February 19 (By Carl Schreck for RIA Novosti) – The United States on Tuesday urged restraint in assessing the circumstances surrounding the death of a three-year-old Russian boy who Russian officials say was killed by his adoptive mother in Texas.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the death of Max Shatto a “terrible tragedy” but said drawing conclusions about the case would be premature until the Ector County, Texas Sheriff’s Office finishes its investigation.
“None of us—not here, not anywhere in the world—should jump to a conclusion about the circumstances until police have had a chance to investigate,” Nuland told a news briefing Tuesday. “There have been very strong assertions made from Moscow. We’re going to wait until the investigation is complete.”
Details about the tragedy have been sparse, though Shatto—who was born Maxim Kuzmin—reportedly died January 21, and Texas’ state child welfare agency told RIA Novosti on Monday that it had been alerted to allegations of “physical abuse” and “neglect” of the boy.
Russia’s federal ombudsman for children’s rights, Pavel Astakhov, wrote on his Twitter feed Monday that the boy was “killed” by his mother and cited a medical examiner’s report as saying the boy “had numerous injuries.”
The boy’s adoptive parents, Alan and Laura Shatto, have not commented publicly since news of their son’s death emerged, and local authorities had not charged anyone in the case as of Tuesday.
Senior officials in Moscow have poured a cascade of criticism on Washington, accusing the United States of failing to alert Russian authorities about the case.
Nuland declined to comment Tuesday on when and how Washington learned of the boy’s death, though she said the United States is doing everything it can to facilitate Russian officials as they look into the case.
“Under American law and also under our bilateral understanding, it is … state and local law enforcement that is responsible for investigating these cases,” Nuland said. “Our responsibility in the State Department is to facilitate appropriate access for concerned foreign officials … to children who have dual citizenship and to the appropriate level of state authorities.”
Max Shatto’s two-year-old brother was also reportedly adopted from Russia by Alan and Laura Shatto, and Russian officials are demanding that he be returned to Russia.
The US Embassy in Moscow said in a statement Tuesday that the State Department and local authorities “have worked closely with Russian consular officials in Houston, facilitating consular access to Max’s sibling as well.”
The statement echoed Nuland’s call for patience as police investigate the death.
“We deeply regret the recent death of Max Shatto in Texas,” the US Embassy statement said. “A child’s loss of life, whether in the US, Russia, or any other country, is always a tragedy. At this early stage it would be irresponsible to draw conclusions about the death or assign guilt before autopsy results are analyzed and an investigation is carried out.”
Moscow banned US citizens from adopting Russian children last month, in what some call a retaliatory measure against a US law imposing sanctions on Russian officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses, though a bilateral adoption agreement between the two countries remains in place until next year.
Russia has said the ban is necessary to protect its children, citing numerous cases of abuse and neglect by US parents that have resulted in the deaths of at least 20 Russian adoptees since the early 1990s.
Critics of the ban, however, say the law will deny thousands of children the opportunity to grow up in a loving family.
Russian officials have said that adoptions by US parents that were approved by a court before the ban took effect on Jan. 1 would be allowed to proceed.
Nuland said these cases involved around 50 Russian children adopted by US citizens but that she did not have a precise number of children that had already been adopted and allowed to leave the country.