Texas authorities investigating death of adopted Russian toddler

February 20, 2013|By Marisa Gerber

News swirled this week that a 3-year-old adopted from Russian who died in a Texas hospital last month had bruises on his body, stoking the already sensitive topic of Americans adopting Russian toddlers.

While one Russian official characterized the Jan. 21 death of Max Alan Shatto as “inhuman treatment” at the hands of American adoptive parents, federal, state and local officials in the U.S. stressed prudence as the investigation continues.

The Sheriff’s Department in Ector County, Texas, where the boy’s parents live, launched an investigation into the case after responding to a local emergency room, where the boy died, department spokesman Gary Duesler said. The sheriff’s office is in contact with Russian officials, he said, adding that no arrests have been made in the case.

Russian Foreign Ministry official Konstantin Dolgov released a statement about the boy -- referred to as Maxim Kuzin by the Russian media -- and called his death “yet another case of inhuman treatment of a Russian child adopted by American parents.”

Tempers flared in late December when the Kremlin announced a plan to ban the adoption of Russian orphans by U.S. families, in a move some U.S. officials regarded as retaliation for the Sergei Magnitsky Act, which placed sanctions on Russian officials. (By January, Russian officials agreed that their adoption agreement with the U.S. would remain active until the start of 2014.)

Texas Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins told the Los Angeles Times that his office is assessing two allegations in the case: neglect and physical abuse.

“We are investigating and the investigation is continuing,” Crimmins said, adding that the family has no previous history with CPS. “The worker will investigate and we’ll make a conclusion. It will either be confirmed or ruled out or undetermined.”

Sondra Woolf, an investigator at the Ector County medical examiner's office, told The Times that the boy had bruises on various parts of his body.

“At this point we really don’t know, until we get the autopsy back, if those bruises had anything to do with his death,” Woolf said. “It could just be superficial bruises that everyone gets. He was a kid.”

The boy's body has been sent to Tarrant County, where Ft. Worth is located, for a full autopsy. Amid accusations by at least one Russian official that the parents drugged the boy, the medical examiner’s office has ordered a full toxicology report.

No one answered at call to the Texas number listed for Alan and Laura Shatto, the boy’s adoptive parents, but the answering message said: “If this is a reporter or a news agency, we have no comment.”

At a news briefing Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the boy’s death a tragedy, but encouraged people to let the investigation be completed.

"There have been very strong assertions made from Moscow,” Nuland said. “But I want to just underscore that nobody should jump to any conclusions about how this child died until Texas authorities have had the opportunity to investigate."


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