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Adopted Russian child's death: What is known about the case so far

The death of Max Shatto, a toddler adopted from Russia, brings grief to a Texas town and fires up protests in Russia, where a ban on US adoptions has taken on a cold-war tone.

By Correspondent / February 20, 2013



When a Texas 3-year-old named Max Shatto died suddenly on Jan. 21, the tragedy sent ripples of grief through the small town where he lived with his parents and younger brother. Local obituaries referred delicately to his “passing into God’s arms,” and friends and family poured their condolences into an online guest book.

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“My heart is broken for the family,” wrote one commenter. “May God comfort you, as only He can.” 

Then, in mid-February, nearly a month after the death, the Russian government came forward with a stunning allegation: that Max, a Russian adoptee whose  birth name was Maxim, had died from abuse and neglect at the hands of his American adoptive parents, Laura and Alan Shatto.

Suddenly, a small town tragedy exploded into a diplomatic firestorm, the latest touchstone in an ongoing and venomous fight between the US and Russia over the adoption of Russian children by Americans, which the Kremlin has long decried as a “shameful” exportation of the country’s children.

This is "yet another case of inhuman torture of a Russian child adopted by US parents," said Russian Foreign Ministry official Konstantin Dolgov in a statement Monday.

But as the controversy spills over into its third day, significant questions remain about both the circumstances of the boy’s death and how it will affect prospects for lifting a ban on Russian adoptions – and even the delicate balance of US-Russia relations.

“Let me underscore that it is a terrible tragedy that this child has died,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during a press conference Tuesday, adding that the US government had already been in touch with Russian authorities about the case for several days.

“But 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,” she added.

By then, however, many Russians had already made up their minds.

"An adoptive mother has killed a three-year-old Russian child in the state of Texas. The murder occurred at the end of January," wrote Russia’s children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov on a blog Monday morning, setting off the controversy.

The boy, he continued, died in his home after his adoptive mother called an ambulance for him. “According to the autopsy report, the boy had many injuries,” he continued.  

By Tuesday, “US kills children” and “protect our children” were the top trending Twitter hashtags in Russia, according to The Washington Post.

But details from Texas law enforcement quickly began to complicate the story.

To start, the boy's mother told law enforcement that she had left Max playing in the yard with his younger brother and returned to find him lying on the ground, unresponsive, according to the Odessa American. And according to the local sheriff's office, the boy died in the hospital – not at home. 

Moreover, there is also no autopsy report conclusively showing “many injuries,” the county medical examiner’s office says, because, so far, no autopsy report has been released at all.

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