ODESSA, Texas (AP) — A 3-year-old boy whose death fueled a fight over American adoptions of Russian children was brought into a West Texas hospital unresponsive and bruised on several parts of his body, a medical examiner’s investigator said Tuesday.
Russian authorities have blamed the Jan. 21 death of Max Alan Shatto on “inhuman treatment” at the hands of the American family that adopted him, but the medical examiner’s office said it couldn’t immediately be determined if the bruises were intentional or accidental.
The boy was identified by the Russians as Maxim Kuzmin. Authorities in West Texas continue to investigate the case, and an autopsy is pending.
Shirley Standefer, chief investigator for the Ector County Medical Examiner’s Office, says there were signs of bruising on Max’s body, including in the lower abdominal area. Max was pronounced dead at a hospital, Standefer said.
“Whether it’s just normal bruising from a child being a child, or whether those bruises are from something else, I can’t confirm or deny this,” Standefer said.
A full autopsy will be needed to determine what kind of bruising was on Max’s body, she said. Authorities also have not received a toxicology report that would have details on whether Max was being given any medication, she said.
The autopsy is being conducted in Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is located, about 300 miles east of Odessa, the Ector County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. A spokesman for Texas Child Protective Services says the agency is investigating complaints of physical abuse and neglect. No one has been arrested in the case.
No one answered the door Tuesday at the Gardendale, Texas, home of Alan and Laura Shatto, the couple who adopted Max and his biological brother from the same orphanage in northwestern Russia, according to a Russian official. The Shattos did not return several phone messages. Other relatives could not be reached for comment.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, the nation’s top investigative agency, said Monday it was probing the boy’s death. Foreign Ministry official Konstantin Dolgov said in a statement that the boy’s death was “yet another case of inhuman treatment of a Russian child adopted by American parents.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Gary Duesler said the office had been in contact with an official at the Russian embassy in Washington, and the U.S. State Department said it was working with both the embassy and the Russian consulate in Houston. Officials at the Russian embassy did not return phone messages Tuesday.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called for caution, saying that “nobody should jump to any conclusions about how this child died until Texas authorities have had the opportunity to investigate.”
An estimated 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans in the past two decades, though future adoptions have been thrown into question after the Russian government passed a ban on American adoptions late last year. The ban is seen as retaliation for a new U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators.
It also reflects resentment in Russia over reports that some of those adopted children have been mistreated. At least 19 adopted Russian children have died.
A Pennsylvania couple in 2011 was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and conspiracy — but acquitted of murder charges — after their 7-year-old adopted son suffered a fatal head injury. That same year, an Alaska woman was given probation and a suspended jail sentence for videotaping herself pouring hot sauce into her adopted son’s mouth.
Chuck Johnson, CEO of the Virginia-based National Council for Adoption, said an agreement ratified last year between the United States and Russia would have prevented the conditions that led to many deaths and high-profile abuse cases. One change in particular would have required all adoptions to go through agencies licensed in Russia.
“The deaths were terribly tragic, horrible,” Johnson said in an interview. “But the frustrating thing has been that those cases have become the face of inter-country adoption, and they shouldn’t be.”
He said the Russian officials implying that American-adopted children would be mistreated “are not being fair or accurate, although I understand their indignation.”
Associated Press writers Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.
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