More than two months after the death of a Russian boy who was adopted by a Gardendale couple caused an international furor, some light is being shed on possible reasons why 3-year-old Russian adoptee Max Shatto died.
To say a few bruises were found on Max Shatto’s body would be an understatement.
An autopsy report was released to the Odessa American following a Freedom of Information request to the Tarrant County District Attorney. The report revealed Max Shatto had more than 30 bruises on his body in various stages of healing when he was pronounced dead at Medical Center Hospital at 5:43 p.m. Jan. 21.
Max Shatto, who was born Maxim Kuzmin in Pskov, Russia, was adopted with his younger brother Kristopher in late 2012. The boys were brought to the United States on Nov. 3, 2012, according to the autopsy report.
The autopsy report consisted of information gathered by several agencies, including the Ector and Tarrant county medical examiners’ offices and law enforcement agencies.
Injuries suffered by Max Shatto include abrasions, scratches, scars and bruises all over his body. Despite those injuries, an external examination of the body in the report shows no specific point of origin for the mesenteric hemorrhage, or the large amount of bleeding caused by the internal laceration that was determined to have been the cause of death.
But Max Shatto had some psychological problems that continued developing while at his new Gardendale home, according to the report, which manifested in self-injury.
From bruises to abrasions, even self-injury of his genitals, he had a number of injuries that were described as self-injury by his adoptive parents both to authorities and to a doctor with Cook Children’s Medical Center who is based in Denton.
Dr. Bruce Eckel, who saw Max Shatto twice at Cook Children’s Medical Center, was interviewed in the autopsy report. Eckel was the first doctor to see Max Shatto when he first came to the U.S.
“He advised that the first time he saw the decedent (Shatto), the decedent had some bruising and a few scratches,” according to the report. “He said that the second time he saw the decedent ... he looked much worse and had bruises and scratches all over him and had a hemorrhage in his left eye.”
Because of the description of Max Shatto’s behavior by his adoptive parents, Eckel said in the autopsy report that he prescribed on Jan. 4 a medication given to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Eckel said in the report that the behaviors and injuries were severe and consistent with a child suffering from a major psychological problem. The report shows that three days before he died the Shattos ceased giving the boy the medication when they believed it was affecting his ability to swallow food.
As an orphan in Russia, Max Shatto’s past is described at points in excruciating detail in the autopsy report, including his time just before moving to the United States.
Eckel said his records show he was born to a 23-year-old Russian woman who had a history of drinking and who drank while pregnant. Shatto lived with the birth family until he was just older than a year, when he was taken to the orphanage.
Max remained there until he was adopted, Eckel said, and that there were allegations of possible abuse at the orphanage, which have not been proven.
The Shattos stayed in Russia for two weeks with a host family before they could take Max Shatto and his brother to their new home in Gardendale.
Both Alan and Laura Shatto were no-billed in the boy’s death on March 18 by an Ector County grand jury, further enraging Russian officials and agencies who have previously criticized the boy’s death and the authorities handling the investigations.
Ector County officials said the manner of Max Shatto’s death was ruled an accident with blunt force trauma to the abdomen, although they could not say exactly what injured him.
Russia closed adoptions to the United States less than a month before Max Shatto’s death, citing poorly treated Russian children who had been adopted.
The abuse in Russia was described in the autopsy report by Laura Shatto, Max Shatto’s adoptive mother, who said she walked in on the host in Russia, who was holding Max Shatto’s genitals and masturbating him.
“She said ever since, he grabs his penis and yanks on it, and seems like he is trying to pull it off and leaves bruises and scratches on it,” according to the autopsy report.
Alan Shatto, the adoptive father of Max Shatto, in the autopsy report said they weren’t sure the host mother was sexually abusing Max Shatto, but Laura Shatto continually insisted she knew it for a fact because she saw it.
Max Shatto did have injuries to his genitals when they first went to Russia to pick him up, Alan Shatto said in the autopsy report, but the host mother did not want them to take him to a hospital in Moscow to see if he had a urinary tract infection. The doctor there said he did not have a UTI, but wasn’t sure why the bleeding was happening, and the family at that point suspected someone abused him.
Michael Brown, the Midland attorney for the Shattos, said he had not seen the autopsy report, but was not surprised about the extent of the injuries.
“That’s what made people react the way they reacted,” he said.
As far as mental illness, Brown said the Shattos did not know about it until they brought him back, and did the best they could.
“They just sort of handled it as it came along,” Brown said. “Because they were not forewarned that they had this thing they were dealing with.”
The day of Max Shatto’s death, Laura Shatto said in the autopsy report that he woke up around 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and did not want to go to the restroom with her, as he was not yet able to use the toilet on his own.
He began throwing a fit as she took him to the toilet, she said in the report, and went back to bed. Because Max Shatto was in a poor mood, Alan Shatto said in the autopsy report he stayed at the house until noon or 1 p.m. and later went to work.
Laura Shatto said in the report she put Kristopher Shatto down for a nap around 11 a.m., while Max Shatto was still in bed, and then woke both of them up around 3 p.m. to take them to the toilet.
She tried to give both boys a snack, Laura Shatto said in the report, which Max Shatto declined. Laura Shatto said that was unusual.
Both boys watched TV for a while until she took them outside around 4 p.m. to play on the swingset, Laura Shatto said in the report, although Max Shatto was quiet and swaying from side to side, which she said was a way he often soothed himself along with sucking his thumb and rocking his head.
She went inside to the restroom, Laura Shatto said in the report, and when she returned she found Max Shatto laying on his back unresponsive near the swings.
Max Shatto had a history of holding his breath until he passed out, Laura Shatto said in the report, which she thought he was doing at that point.
When she saw him on the ground, Laura Shatto said in the report that she went to him, grabbed him and began shaking him vigorously while calling his name. She then grabbed him by the neck with both hands and shook hard until blood bubbles began coming out of his mouth, Laura Shatto said, which she said she believed was from him hurting his lip previously.
Other things happened to Max Shatto before the date of his death, including falling out of a chair while choking on a cooked carrot, banging his head against solid objects, and clawing himself, which Laura Shatto reported she tried to prevent by cutting his nails very short and putting gloves on his hands at night.
Yevgeni Khorishko, a spokesman with the Russian Embassy in the United States, said he could not comment on the autopsy because he wasn’t sure if Russian authorities had received a copy of it.
Since Max Shatto’s death, Russian media tracked down his biological mother, Yulia Kuzmina, who said she wanted her other son back, although U.S. authorities said that would not be possible.