The Jan. 21 death of 3-year-old Max Shatto, born Maxim Kuzmin, has fueled a fight over Russian adoptions in the U.S. as senior Russian officials accused the boy's adopted mother, Laura Shatto, of killing the boy.
The medical examiner's office in West Texas has not officially pronounced the cause of death and presented only early results, but the report of bruises on Max's body — although their origin has not been established — made some Russians jump to a conclusion.
Russian children rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov last week branded the death as "killing" by Shatto's adoptive American mother. The State Duma's draft petition to U.S. Congress on Friday mentioned that the death is "connected to the fact of violence" by the Shattos. The Russian theory that the boy was killed has topped the news on state-controlled media which have been using the case to justify country's move on Dec. 28 to ban all adoptions to the U.S. The ban sparked criticism abroad and a thousands-strong protest rally in Moscow.
In a response to Russian authorities and some state media which were was nearly gloating over the death, U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul said he was "troubled by how my people and my country are being portrayed by some in the Russian press."
"It is time for sensational exploitations of human tragedy to end and for professional work between our two countries to grow, on this issue and many others," he wrote in a blog post on Friday.
Russia's state-controlled Rossiya TV channel aired a live talk snow Thursday evening featuring the biological mother of the boy, Yulia Kuzmina, who lost parental custody for Max and his half-brother Kirill Kuzmin over negligence and serious drinking problems.
In a tightly choreographed interview, Kuzmina insisted that Russian custody officials took advantage of her absence from her home town to seize her children. The program's host Mikhail Zelenin introduced Kuzmina as "mourning for Maxim and hoping to get Kirill back" while the experts commenting on the case were largely Kremlin loyalists including author Maria Arbatova who insisted that Kuzmina's children were "stolen" from their mother.
Kuzmina said she gave up drinking and found a job and pledged to fight to get back her other son Kirill, who was also adopted by the Shatto family.
Valentina Chernova from the children's welfare office in Kuzmina's home Pskov region said on the talk show that the woman was stripped of custody of her second children for drinking bouts during pregnancy and her negligence with her first-born.
The RIA Novosti and Interfax news agencies reported Friday that Kuzmina and her boyfriend, who were travelling Thursday night from Moscow to their home town, were taken off the train by police after a drunken brawl.
Max's adoptive mother, Laura Shatto, told authorities earlier this week that Max and his half-brother were playing outside the family's home near Odesa, Texas. Shatto said she came out and found the boy unconscious on the ground.
Shirley Standefer, chief investigator for the Ector County Medical Examiner's Office, said that there were signs of bruising on Max's lower abdominal area, but added that a full autopsy would be needed to determine what kind of bruising that was. Authorities also have not received a toxicology report that would have details on whether Max was being given any medication.
The Texas Child Protective Services spokesman said that they had received allegations of physical abuse and neglect, but had not determined whether those allegations were true.