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February 19, 2013

Texas Authorities Investigate Death of Adopted Russian Child

by Greg Flakus

Authorities in Ector County, in west Texas, are investigating the death of a three-year-old boy who was born in Russia and adopted by a US couple living in that area. A medical examiner raised questions about possible abuse after a preliminary inspection of the boy's body, which is now undergoing an autopsy.

State and local authorities are proceeding with an investigation into the death of three-year-old Max Shatto on January 21 in Odessa, Texas, but they still have no determination of cause and have not made any arrests. Ector County Sheriff's Department Sergeant Gary Duesler says several local agencies became involved in the case very quickly.

“The Medical Examiners office and, of course, our office is involved in it, Child Protective Services because it did not look like a natural death to us," said Duesler. "So we sent the body off for an autopsy in Tarrant County and we are currently waiting for the results to come back on that.”

Duesler says Odessa is too small to have its own autopsy facility so such cases are often handled by a hospital in a larger city like Dallas. He says investigators have spoken to the family, but have not filed any charges yet.

“We are starting to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It is an ongoing investigation and we are basically in limbo until we get results back from the autopsy," he said.

Duesler says the sheriff's department is in contact with the Russian embassy in Washington and with US Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Senator Landrieu recently headed a group of ten US senators at a meeting with officials at the Russian embassy about the ban on US adoptions Russia imposed late last year.

At the US State Department Tuesday, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described the death of Max Shatto as a tragedy and said US officials are keeping in touch with both the Russian embassy and the Russian consulate in Houston.

But Nuland cautioned that it is still too early to say what happened to the adopted boy.

“Nobody should jump to any conclusions about how this child died until Texas authorities have had a chance to investigate," said Nuland.

The death of the boy in west Texas has aroused Russian critics of US child adoptions who say not enough is being done to protect adopted children from abusive or negligent parents. Russian officials expressed outrage in 2008 when an adopted toddler named Dima Yakovlev died in Virginia after being left alone in a closed car in intense heat. Max Shatto, whose birth name was Maxim Kuzmin, came from the same orphanage in Russia. Texas officials say his two-year-old brother remains in the home of the adoptive parents, Alan and Laura Shatto, while the investigation proceeds.