MOSCOW, February 18 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s child rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, writing Monday in his Twitter feed, accused a Texas woman of killing a toddler she and her husband had adopted from Russia, though he acknowledged later that no conclusive investigation had yet taken place.
“An adoptive mother has killed a three-year-old Russian child in the state of Texas. The murder occurred at the end of January,” Astakhov wrote in an inflammatory tweet.
“The boy died before an ambulance called by his mother arrived. According to a report by medical examiners, the boy had numerous injuries,” Astakhov wrote.
Speaking later on state-run television, he said that Texas authorities were investigating, but had not yet determined whether any crime took place. Astakhov said the woman had been restricted to seeing her second child, reportedly the deceased boy’s two-year-old brother, once a week.
The Russian Foreign Ministry's plenipotentiary for human rights, Konstantin Dolgov, identified the family in question by the surname Shatto.
A spokesperson for Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) confirmed in an interview with RIA Novosti on Monday that CPS is investigating the death of Max Shatto, 3, adding that law enforcement officials from the Ector County Sheriff's Department, in Odessa, Texas, are also investigating, which means the process can take longer than the typical 30 days.
“In this particular case, the allegations reported to CPS were physical abuse and neglectful supervision, or simply, neglect,” the official said.
The issue of US adoptions of Russian children has become highly politicized in the past several months. Late last year, the Russian parliament passed a hurried ban on adoptions by US nationals on the heels of a new US law known as the Magnitsky Act, which introduced US financial and travel restrictions on Russian officials deemed by the United States to have violated human rights.
Russian officials have insisted the ban is not a tit for tat, but instead an expression of concern over the deaths and mistreatment of Russian children at the hands of American adoptive parents.
According to US State Department figures, more than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans over the past two decades. Of those, Russian officials say 19 were killed through the actions of their American parents, and complain that US authorities do not give them sufficient access to monitor adopted children’s well-being.
In his statements Monday, Astakhov, a vocal opponent of US adoptions, said that the Texas three-year-old, identified by his Russian name as Maxim Kuzmin, had been regularly given powerful “psychotropic substances” and badly beaten before his death, which reportedly occurred January 21.
Both Astakhov and Dolgov, the Foreign Ministry official, complained that the US State Department had not helped Russian authorities learn of the case, but Dolgov praised Ector County authorities as helpful.
Astakhov tweeted Monday evening that Russian consular officials had been allowed to visit the boy's adoptive parents, in part to see about his younger brother, identified as Kirill. Astakhov also said he expected the Texas probe to come to a conclusion in 10-15 days.
The story topped Russia’s evening news, with anchors on state-run television calling it “outrageous” and presenting as fact that the child had been “killed.”
An obituary of three-year-old Max Alan Shatto was posted on the website of a Louisiana funeral home, featuring the same photograph of the boy as used in Russian news reports. The obituary identified the boy’s parents as Alan and Laura Shatto.
A woman reached by telephone at the Shattos’ home in Texas, who said only that she was a family member (not Laura), told RIA Novosti the couple had “no comment.”
Russia’s Investigative Committee said Monday evening that it had started looking into the reports of the child’s death following a request from Astakhov to open a criminal case.
An official from the US State Department said in a statement sent to RIA Novosti on Monday that it was "aware of the case" and understood "that Texas authorities are investigating," and directed specific questions to them.
“When foreign governments raise child welfare concerns with the Department of State, the Department facilitates communication with the appropriate local and state authorities that have primary jurisdiction over child welfare matters,” the official said.
Updated at 12:48 to better integrate CPS and US State Department comments.