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Russians meet with adoptive parents of dead boy; U.S. urges no rush to judgment

By Elise Labott, Alla Eshchenko and Marlena Baldacci, CNN
February 20, 2013 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.S. State Department says Russians have rushed to judgment
  • NEW: Russian officials meet with brother, who also was adopted
  • Governor of Russia's Pskov region suspends adoptions by Americans
  • West Texas officials say the boy's death is suspicious, but no charges have been filed

(CNN) -- The U.S. State Department is countering Russian criticism of how American authorities are handling of case of a 3-year-old adopted boy who died in Texas.

"What is very troubling about this case is that the Russians are making very wild accusations against the (adoptive) parents before they have information," a senior State Department official told CNN. "I think it is irresponsible of the Russians to say the parents did x, y or z before we find out what happened.

In West Texas, the Ector County Medical Examiner's Office is investigating because of the "suspicious" nature of the boy's death, investigator Kim Harrington said.

Russian officials Tuesday met with the boy's unnamed adoptive parents and his surviving brother, also adopted from Russia, after the State Department coordinated the session through Texas Child Protective Services. U.S. officials said.

Meanwhile, a Russian governor halted the foreign adoption of orphans in his region after the boy's death.

"If we know the facts and they are as the Russians claimed, they have every right to be upset just as we would be upset if an American child was adopted in Russia and the same thing happened. But there shouldn't be a rush to judgment when these parents might be in terrible pain over what happened to their son," said the State Department official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the sensitive issue.

The case of the 3-year-old's death has aggravated State Department efforts push through more than 500 adoption cases in which American families have already begun the process to adopt a Russian child before Moscow in December passed a law banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

That pending law would ban adoptions by Americans ostensibly because of documented cases of abuse by adoptive parents. But others say the Russian move is in retaliation for a U.S. law that places restrictions on Russian human rights abusers.

"This is a very difficult case for us and the timing couldn't be worse," the State Department official said. "We are trying to revolve the rest of these cases, but having a case like this makes it more difficult."

Officials said, including the death in Texas, 20 of about 60,000 Russian children adopted by Americans in the past two decades have died in the United States.

"We share one hundred percent the Russian concerns about these cases of death and abuse," another senior State Department official said. Acknowledging that 20 Russian children have died with U.S. families, the official added, "We do not disagree this is unacceptable."

State Department officials said they hope to travel to Moscow to discuss the pending adoption cases.

Adoptions halted in one Russian region

Adopted Russian boy in suspicious death
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The governor of Russia's Pskov region is not waiting for the national ban to take effect, and announced Tuesday that all orphan adoptions to foreigners would be temporarily stopped.

"Another cruel crime against a child was committed in the United States," Pskov Gov. Andrey Turchak said.

The boy was born on January 9, 2010, and died on January 21, said Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's special representative for human rights.

Dolgov said the child suffered injuries to his head and legs, as well as to his abdomen and internal organs. The wounds, he said, "could only be caused by strong blows."

Authorities in Texas have not released such details. But they have offered some specifics.

The child was found unresponsive at his residence and his mother called 911, Ector County Forensic Death Investigator Sondra Woolf said. The boy was transported to the emergency room by the fire department, then pronounced dead by an emergency room doctor, she said.

The body has been sent to Fort Worth for an autopsy, and results could take weeks, she added.

Patrick Crimmins, of Texas Child Protective Services, said his office is investigating allegations including physical abuse and neglectful supervision, or neglect.

Sgt. Gary Duesler, a spokesman for the Ector County Sheriff's Office, said his office also is investigating. No arrests have been made, and officials are waiting for autopsy results, he said.

Governor wants brother sent back to Russia

The boy's death is confirmation of Russia's decision to ban U.S. adoptions, the Pskov governor said.

"We need to do everything and create all necessary conditions for the orphans to find families here in our Pskov region and in Russia," he said.

Tuchak said his office is working to bring the brother back to his native Russia, even though the American parents have not been charged with any crime or publicly named.

"You need to start taking the necessary procedures today," Turchak said. The brother "can't stay in the United States. With American legislation, he would be transferred from one hand to another. It's an additional trauma for the kid. He's not a dog or a cat."

Texas Child Protective Services says its top priority is the surviving child or children at the home, Crimmins said.

"At any time, if we feel the surviving child or children may be at risk, we can remove immediately," he said.

A call seeking comment to a number listed for the boy's adoptive parents was not immediately returned. A voice message told reporters the parents would have no comment.

In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law the measure that would ban the adoption of Russian children by U.S. families. It is scheduled to take effect in January 2014.

Americans adopted close to 1,000 Russian children last year, according to U.S. State Department figures.

Though the number has been dropping in recent years, Russia remains the third most popular foreign country -- after China and Ethiopia -- for U.S. foreign adoptions.

The Russian measure also bars any political activities by nongovernmental organizations receiving funding from the United States, if such activities could affect Russian interests, Russia's semiofficial RIA Novosti news agency said.

And it imposes sanctions on U.S. officials thought to have violated human rights.

The move is widely seen as retaliation for a bill that U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law on December 14. That law, called the Magnitsky Act, imposes U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.

The act is named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered the largest tax fraud in the country's history in the form of rebates claimed by government officials who stole money from the state. Magnitsky was apparently beaten to death in 2009 after a year in a Moscow detention center.

Backers of the Russian bill said American adoptive parents have been abusive, citing what they say are the 20 deaths of adopted Russian children since the 1990s.

The Russian public supported the bill, with 56% of respondents in a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation saying they backed the ban, RIA Novosti reported.

In 2010, an American woman sparked outrage after she sent her adopted son back to Russia alone on a one-way flight, saying the boy, then 7, had violent episodes that made her family fear for its safety.

CNN's Zarifmo Aslamshoyeva and Chandler Friedman contributed to this report.

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