HOUSTON, TEXAS — The sheriff and district attorney [county prosecutor] in Ector County, Texas, have ruled the death of three-year-old Max Shatto an accident. The boy was born in Russia as Maxim Kuzmin before being adopted along with his younger brother by a Texas couple. The case has stirred an outcry in Russia, where adoptions by US citizens were banned late last year and, it may not be over yet.
The autopsy report indicates that Shatto died from a laceration to an artery in the abdomen and that based on “all medical reasonable probability” the death was accidental. The doctors who examined the body determined that the bruises found on the lower abdomen were consistent with self injury.
It was those bruises that prompted the Ector County Medical Examiner to send the body to a facility in the city of Fort Worth, Texas, for an autopsy on January 22, the day after he died.
A toxicology test done as part of the autopsy found no medications or drugs in the boy's blood stream that could have contributed to his death.
Max Shatto and his two-year-old brother Kristopher were adopted by Alan and Laura Shatto of Gardendale, Texas, several months ago. The couple have not spoken to reporters, but their attorney, Michael Brown, told VOA in a telephone interview that there has never been any evidence that the mother, Laura, hurt the boy, as was alleged by some Russian officials.
“What she has consistently told the police and me and everyone she has talked to about this is that she had the children in the back yard. She came back inside; she had to go to the bathroom, an embarrassing difficulty that she was having, and when she came out of the bathroom, Max was lying on his back in the yard,” said Brown.
Since authorities are continuing the investigation, it is still possible that Laura Shatto could be charged with negligence. Brown confirmed that Texas Child Protective Services had initially restricted her access to Kristopher and her own home to two hours a day as a routine measure.
“Now they have just increased it to four hours a day where she is allowed to be with the child. The father, Alan, has been with the child consistently since then in addition to his full-time job. He is an engineer in the oil field and he has double duty until she is finally allowed to return,” said Brown.
Political figures in Russia have blamed the mother for the death and claimed that the case further justifies the ban they placed on US adoptions late last year. They also have called for Kristopher to be removed from the home, but Texas officials say they have found no evidence that the child is in danger and they are monitoring the home with frequent visits. The state of Texas is also investigating the agency that handled the adoption last year, the Gladney Adoption Center in Fort Worth, to make sure all proper procedures were followed.