Child’s death fans adoption debate in Russia

Country accuses Texas parents of abusing boy, 3

Russia’s children rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, said the boy had been beaten. US officials are awaiting autopsy results.
Russia’s children rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, said the boy had been beaten. US officials are awaiting autopsy results.

MOSCOW — Reports that a 3-year-old adopted Russian child died in Texas last month set off a furor here Tuesday, with Russian officials declaring the boy had been abused, although US authorities say the death is still under investigation.

The child, Max Shatto, was born in northwestern Russia and lived in the same orphanage in the city of Pskov as Chase Harrison, who was adopted by a Virginia couple and died at the age of 21 months after his father left him in a hot car in July 2008.

The Russian law banning American adoptions, enacted in December, was named after him as the Dima Yakovlev law, the name Chase was given at birth.


Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s ombudsman and fervent opponent of foreign adoptions, told reporters Monday evening that Max had been beaten and given heavy psychiatric drugs. Konstantin Dolgov, the Foreign Ministry’s human rights officer, said he had died Jan. 21 ‘‘after being cruelly treated.’’

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By Tuesday morning, Russia’s top investigatory agency was demanding a role in the inquiry, the governor of Pskov was insisting that the US family return Max’s 2-year-old brother to Russia, and a legislator was calling for a stop to the last few American adoptions underway.

‘‘US kills children’’ was the top trending hashtag on Twitter here.

The US Embassy responded Tuesday afternoon, tweeting that the ‘‘State Department and local authorities have been working closely with the Russian Consulate in Houston for weeks.’’

In other tweets, the embassy said, ‘‘We deeply regret death of a child in Texas. A child’s loss of life is always a tragedy,’’ and cautioned, ‘‘It is important to wait for results of law enforcement investigation before drawing conclusions.’’


But conclusions have already been drawn.

‘‘A savage crime has been committed in America once again,’’ Pskov’s governor, Andrei Turchak, said in a statement distributed by his press service. ‘‘Its victim was a child adopted from our region — Maxim Kuzmin. He died before the ambulance arrived. It was painful for us to hear this news.’’

He said adoptions of any kind would be stopped in Pskov for now and that efforts were being made to return Max’s younger brother, Kirill, to Pskov, where local families were ready to provide him a home.

‘‘Kirill cannot stay in the US any longer,’’ Turchak said. ‘‘The child will simply change hands. It will traumatize the child even more. He is not a dog or a car.’’

Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for Texas Child Protective Services, told the Associated Press that the Ector County Sheriff’s Office was investigating whether Max had been abused. The sheriff’s office said investigators were awaiting an autopsy report.


The child’s parents were identified as Alan and Laura Shatto, of Gardendale, Texas, a small community outside Midland, close to the southeastern tip of New Mexico. At a telephone number listed for Shattos, a voicemail message Tuesday said they had no comment.

Sondra Woolf, an investigator for the Ector County medical examiner, said she had been called to the emergency room at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, late in the afternoon on Jan. 21, to investigate the toddler’s death. She said she was not sure what his condition had been upon arrival, but she believed the emergency room staff had worked to try to save or revive him before she got there.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it was opening a murder investigation in absentia against Laura Shatto, according to its spokesman, Vladimir Markin.