Russians Blame Texas Parents for Adopted Boy's Death

PHOTO: Max Shatto was adopted from an orphanage in north-west Russia last year by Laura Shatto and her husband.
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The emergency room death of a 3-year-old boy adopted from Russia is being called "murder" by officials in Moscow, but Texas officials investigating the case say they don't know where the Russians are getting their claims that the toddler died after being abused by his adoptive mother.

Russian investigators have launched an inquiry into the death of Max Shatto in an Ector County, Texas, hospital on Jan 21. Russia's Children's Rights Commissioner Pavel Astakhov said Monday that Max died after being fed psychiatric drugs by his adoptive parents. In a post on Twitter, Astakhov said this was a case of "murder."

Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's special representative for human rights, issued a statement saying that Max (formerly Maxim Kuzmin) also had signs of injuries that "could only be caused by strong blows."

Olga Batalina, deputy head of a State Duma committee on family, women and children's welfare, said Russia would seek the return of Max's 2-year-old brother, who had been adopted by the Shattos at the same time as Max.

U.S. officials, from the local authorities in Texas to the State Department say the Russians are leaping to unsubstantiated conclusions.

"None of us, not here, not anywhere in the world, should jump to a conclusion about the circumstances until the police have had a chance to investigate," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "There have been very strong assertions made from Moscow. We are going to wait until the investigation is complete."

The allegations are bolstering those lawmakers here who supported Russia's decision earlier this year to ban adoptions to the United States, as well as dimming chances that the ban will be reversed or more leniently applied in the near term.

Russia's parliament today held a moment of silence in Max's memory, according to RIA Novosti.

Authorities in Ector County, Texas, declined to discuss the case but did confirm they are trying to determine the young boy's cause of death.

The sheriff's office said today that it is working with Child Protective Services and Dr. Sergey Chumarev, the senior counselor for the Russian embassy.

Police said they went to Medical Center Hospital at 4:49 p.m. on Jan. 21 after Max Shatto was rushed to the emergency room, where he died. The sheriff's office began an investigation into his death, the statement said.

Laura and Alan Shatto, Max's parents, declined to comment today on the allegations. They have not been charged with any crimes in connection with the child's death.

Astakhov, who has said he wants a full ban on the adoption of Russian children by any foreigners, said he had been told by investigators in Ector County that Max's body showed signs of severe bruising and internal organ damage during an autopsy, and that police were investigating Laura Shatto for child abuse. Astakhov also said that the child had been given psychiatric drugs for an alleged psychiatric disorder.

Sgt. Gary Duesler of the Ector County Sheriff's Department declined to comment today on the allegations made by Astakhov. He said the investigation into Max Shatto's death is ongoing as police await the autopsy results and cause of his death.

The results are expected in two to four weeks, Duesler said. Sondra Woolf, an investigator at the Ector County Medical Examiner's office, said the office would not release any details on the boy's death until the entire report was completed, including toxicology lab results that are not completed yet.

Woolf said she could not comment on the specific allegations of bruising or damage to Max's internal organs, but said she didn't know where Astakhov was "getting this from." She said their office had not released that information to Russian authorities.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said the State Department and local authorities have been working with Russian consular officials in Houston, facilitating consular access to Max's brother as well.

"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," the embassy statement said.

Russia cut off adoptions to the United States as of Jan. 1, citing the cases of 19 Russian children who died after being adopted by Americans. Max Shatto would be the 20th. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, American families have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children, according to the State Department.

The ban was seen by U.S. officials as part of Russia's retaliation for a set of human rights sanctions imposed by the United States in December that threatened to place financial and travel sanctions on Russian officials believed to have committed human rights abuses.

Recently, however, Russian officials have denied the adoption ban was a response to the American sanctions.

After a few tense weeks, Russia allowed several dozen adoptions that had already received court approval to proceed. However, they have so far held up hundreds more cases where the children had met their prospective parents, but had not yet gotten the go ahead from a judge. American diplomats have tried in vain to convince Russia to reverse that decision.

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