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Adopted Russian boy's death ruled accidental in Texas

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas authorities ruled the death of a Russian boy adopted by a U.S. couple an accident on Friday, but said a probe would continue into a case that has intensified a dispute over international adoptions.

The January 21 death of Max Shatto, 3, had sparked criminal and child welfare investigations in Texas, probes by authorities in Russia, and calls from Russian lawmakers for his 2-year-old brother to be returned to Russia.

Max died from a torn artery in his abdomen and had bruises consistent with injuring himself, Ector County officials said in a statement.

Laura and Alan Shatto had adopted Max and his brother from Russia. They live in Gardendale, a small community of about 1,600 people about 20 miles northwest of Midland, Texas, the childhood home of former U.S. President George W. Bush.

Laura Shatto told investigators she was with Max and his brother as they played together in the family's backyard. She left them momentarily to duck inside and found Max unresponsive on the ground when she returned. Max died at an area hospital.

Three pathologists and an outside medical examiner reviewed the autopsy results and agreed the death was accidental, the statement said.

Doctors determined that bruising found on the child was consistent with self-injury, the statement said.

"Shatto had previously been seen for a behavioral disorder that manifested itself in self-injury and these bruises were consistent with that diagnosis," the statement said.

There were no medicines or substances found that could have contributed to Max's death, the statement said.

The local sheriff and other officials are continuing their investigation.

No charges have been filed, but Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland did not rule out that there could be.

"We will look at the circumstances surrounding the child's death and everything that goes along with that and make a determination of whether there was a violation of the law," Bland said.

"It is a terrible tragedy when a child of 3 years old dies," Bland said. "However, based on the medical information that we have, I had four doctors look at it and they told me it was accidental.

"Obviously, this is a major piece of evidence that influences how we proceed and what possible charges could be filed."

Texas child welfare authorities also are investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. The priority is to ensure the safety of Max's brother, who remained in the home.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services on Friday cleared the adoption agency that facilitated Max's adoption, finding no violations after an unannounced inspection.

Russian officials have opened their own inquiry, saying they are concerned Max may have been badly beaten and that the Shatto case is the latest example of inhumane treatment of Russian children adopted by Americans.

Moscow has seized on Max's death to justify a ban imposed on Americans adopting Russians on January 1, which was itself a response to U.S. legislation that denies visas and freezes assets of Russians accused of human rights abuses.

Russian lawmakers on February 22 appealed to the U.S. Congress to help return Max's brother to Russia.

American families in recent years have adopted more children from Russia than from any other country, with more than 60,000 Russian child adoption cases documented in the United States since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

(Reporting by David Bailey and Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Walsh and Lisa Shumaker)

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