Adopted Russian child's death 'accidental'

Three-year-old Max Shatto's death at his American parents' home in Texas has put focus on international adoptions.
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2013 19:40

The death of a three-year-old Russian boy adopted by an American couple was an accident, authorities in Texas have said, but the investigation into the case which ignited a dispute over international adoptions will continue.

Max Shatto, also known by his Russian name Maxim Kuzman, died while in the care of his adoptive parents Alan and Laura in January, a few months after they had taken him and his two-year-old half brother Kristpher from an orphanage in western Russia.

After an autopsy, doctors "returned a finding that the cause of death of this child was a laceration to the small bowel mesentery artery due to blunt trauma in the abdomen. But the manner of death is that it was accidental," Bobby Bland, Texas Ector County District Attorney, said on Friday.

Max died from a torn artery in his abdomen and had bruises consistent with injuring himself, a behavioural disorder that he had previously seen doctors for, a statement from Ector County officials said.

The child's adoptive mother Laura told investigators she was with Max and his brother as they played together in the family's backyard. She left them momentarily to go inside and found Max unresponsive on the ground when she returned.

Max died at an area hospital.

Adoption ban

The child's death has sparked criminal and child welfare investigations in Texas, probes by authorities in Russia, and calls for his half brother to be returned to Russia.

Russia's foreign ministry expressed concern on Saturday over the US coroner's report, calling it "incomplete".

Officials demanded to be given documents necessary to shed more light on the case including the death certificate.

"Moscow with concern reviewed reports that according to the official version...Maxim Kuzmin's death was caused by a lacerated artery in his bowel," the ministry said in a statement.

Russian officials have opened their own inquiry, saying they are concerned Max may have been badly beaten and that the Shatto case is the latest example of inhumane treatment of Russian children adopted by Americans.

Moscow seized on Max's death to justify a ban imposed on Americans adopting Russians on January 1, which was itself a response to a US legislation that denied visas and assets freeze of Russians accused of human rights abuses.

Russian legislators on February 22 appealed to the US Congress to help return Max's brother to Russia.

American families in recent years have adopted more children from Russia than from any other country, with more than 60,000 Russian child adoption cases documented in the US since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

'Terrible tragedy'

The Texas Ector County District Attorney said the case will continue, despit ruling the death accidental.

"We will look at the circumstances surrounding the child's death and everything that goes along with that and make a determination of whether there was a violation of the law," he said.

"It is a terrible tragedy when a child of three years old dies," Bland said. "However, based on the medical information that we have, I had four doctors look at it and they told me it was accidental.

"Obviously, this is a major piece of evidence that influences how we proceed and what possible charges could be filed."

Texas child welfare authorities also are investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. The priority is to ensure the safety of Max's brother, who remained in the home.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services on Friday cleared the adoption agency that facilitated Max's
adoption, finding no violations after an unannounced inspection.


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