An ambulance pulled up to a Gardendale home in the mid-afternoon Jan. 21, shortly after two children, 2 and 3 years old, were playing in the yard.
One of the boys was on the ground, and would die less than an hour later at Medical Center Hospital.
Sheriff Mark Donaldson said his deputies arrived to the home in Gardendale at 16097 North Waldrop Ave., as the ambulance was leaving with Max Alan Shatto, a 3-year-old adopted Russian boy. The boy was pronounced dead at 5:43 p.m. by a Medical Center Hospital emergency room doctor.
Yevgeniy Khorishko, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy to the United States, said Russian courts approved the adoption in October 2012, according to their records.
Max Shatto was adopted from a Pskov, Russia, orphanage along with his brother, Kristopher Elvin Shatto.
Russian media outlets are alleging torture and murder, although local authorities insist neither Russian media outlets nor government officials are privy to information other than what has already been released.
Donaldson said his office was notified of the ambulance call at 4:49 p.m. Jan. 21, and were dispatched to the home. The 9-1-1 call was on a report of cardiac arrest.
Donaldson said deputies have spoken with the adoptive parents of the boy.
Laura Shatto, the boy’s adoptive mother, told deputies that she was inside when Max Shatto became unresponsive, Donaldson said.
“We know the child was outside playing with the other child. They were both out there,” Donaldson said. “The mother went out there – she wasn’t out there – and when she came out there he was on the ground.”
Donaldson said that was just before the ambulance was called, but wouldn’t elaborate on what injuries the boy had and how he could have gotten them.
The Ector County Medical Examiner’s Office has previously stated the boy had bruises on his body, including on his lower abdomen, but would not say where the bruises are believed to have come from.
The medical examiner’s office has refused to release a preliminary autopsy report, and said they are not releasing the report to law enforcement officials, either.
Chief Forensic Death Investigator Shirley Standefer with the medical examiner’s office said in Wednesday’s Odessa American that she is not releasing the preliminary report because previously officers and deputies leaked them to families and media.
Although the sheriff’s office periodically releases information about death investigations, Donaldson said they don’t release in-depth information on every death.
Donaldson said one of his deputies did observe the autopsy performed by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. He also said despite previously releasing information on other autopsies, he’s not going to release information on this one.
“My interest here to start off with is a 3-year-old boy that’s dead,” Donaldson said. “And as far as I’m concerned, he’s a Texas boy because he’s living in the state of Texas and Ector County.”
Khorishko sent a news release Wednesday afternoon confirming that a senior diplomat from the embassy and consular representative from the Russian Consulate General in Houston have visited Ector County and spoken with local authorities and the adoptive father.
“We got evidence that authorities of the Ector County are investigating the tragedy that took place,” according to the release. “Relying on the primary information about this tragedy we were able to get we have deepest concern of what happened to Maxim Kuzmin (Max Shatto).”
According to the news release, the embassy expects full cooperation between local authorities and Russian authorities.
The embassy also expects that if there is a criminal component, that those responsible are “severely punished,” according to the release.
Donaldson said he could not find any record of the sheriff’s office being dispatched to the address before the 9-1-1 call on Jan. 21.
Paul Zimmerman, a spokesman with Child Protective Services, said he couldn’t say much about the case.
“Just because of the way that confidentiality laws are set up, we’re having to be very careful about exactly what we’re releasing here,” he said. “Plus, with the Russian stuff that’s going on, there’s a tendency to sensationalize.”
According to a CPS news release, the investigation is still open, the family has no prior CPS involvement and the organization is monitoring Max Shatto’s younger brother.
Zimmerman said just because one child died in a house doesn’t necessarily mean other children in the same house will be removed.
For a child to be removed by CPS, Zimmerman said first a report of abuse or neglect must be received, and then a risk assessment and safety assessment must happen.
In the risk assessment, Zimmerman said an investigator must determine child vulnerability, caregiver ability, quality of care, treatment patterns, home and social environment, and protective capacities of the parents.
The next step, a safety assessment, looks at the current conditions in the home and with the parents.
“When assessing safety, you’re looking at whether there’s a present danger of serious harm to the child,” Zimmerman said.
Max Shatto’s death comes at a time when tensions between the United States and Russia are high regarding adoptions between the two countries.
Russia announced it was banning all U.S. adoptions in a bill signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which went into effect Jan. 1.
Debbie Wynne, CEO of Buckner Adoption Services based in Dallas, with an office in Midland, said she could not say whether the company facilitated the adoptions of Max Shatto, but that they are saddened by his death.
“Over the years there have been 60,000 placements of Russian children in the US. And the majority of those are very successful,” Wynne said. “We are saddened to think that any child would be harmed. We feel like the state of Texas should investigate to the full extent of the law."
According to the Associated Press, at least 19 children of those 60,000 adoptions in the past 20 years have died.
The Odessa American requested numerous documents from several agencies on Tuesday and Wednesday through the Open Records Act. No responses to those requests have been received as of press time Wednesday.