In May 2012, Kathleen and Martin O’Brien were charged with abusing some of their six internationally adopted children, abuse allegations which included locking them in a room with no bathroom, forcing them to kneel naked on sharp rocks and stand in a feces covered dog pen, and withholding food from them. Now, two of the couple’s adopted children Leonid, 16 and Carolina, 17, who have since been adopted by a loving couple, share with Dr. Phil what they say they endured over the course of years.
Leonid, who was born in Russia, and Carolina, who was born in Guatemala, say they’re telling their story in the hope that they will help give children who may be in a similar situation the courage to speak out. “There are children who still have years and years in abusive families, and they’re scared of speaking out because they’re scared of consequences, they’re scared of more abuse that could happen,” Leonid says. “And a lot of times, it takes just one person to stand up and be, like, ‘This is what happened to me.’ We spoke out, and now we’re trying to help out and make a difference with other children.”
“Tell me, in your own words, the things that stick out in your mind that you had to go through that you just really couldn’t change, you couldn’t fight back about,” Dr. Phil says to the siblings in the video above.
“The physical abuse, the marks that were made at that time, they’ve healed,” Leonid says. “I think the worst abuse is being left alone for a child, because it makes them feel as, ‘Who is going to help me? I feel so alone.’ So I think as much as physical abuse is bad, I think the worst part is the emotional abuse, because that’s what breaks down the kid.”
Carolina, who claims she was locked in a room for most of six years, shares her story. “All my six siblings, we shared one room. There were three different bunk beds in the room, and it had a trash can, and that was it,” she says.
“And the trash can was for what?” Dr. Phil asks.
“For us to go to the bathroom,” the teen says.
Carolina says they were allowed to bathe two to three times a week, and Sunday morning before church.
“What about food? What did you do for food?” Dr. Phil asks.
“They didn’t really feed us,” Carolina replies, as she begins to cry. “I would take food for my siblings.”
The four other children in the home were biological children of the O’Briens, and Leonid and Carolina say they often watched their siblings eat while they were not allowed. They say that the refrigerator and pantry were locked and if they were caught stealing food, they would be hit with a belt or made to sleep outside for the night.
“Where did you get food?” Dr. Phil continues.
“We would eat grass. My older brother showed us what to eat. We lived around fields, so we would take corn,” Carolina recalls, adding that they also took apples from their neighbors yard. “We would eat goat food. We tried raw eggs, because we had chickens, and we would eat peanuts and bird seed.”
The children also claim they were physically abused. Carolina says she was hit with a stick, and Leonid says that Mrs. O’Brien stabbed his hand with a pocketknife and tore his ear until it bled.
“Mrs. O’Brien grabbed [my ear], and she started dragging me across the room,” Leonid says. “The next thing I know is it hurts, and I touch it, and there’s some blood dripping down, and I notice that there’s a tear.”
Dr. Phil asks Leoind what he thought as these things were happening to him.
“As a child, I thought, I see I did something wrong, and this is a punishment,” he says. “I didn’t really see it as, this is bad, this isn’t supposed to happen to a kid.”
In July 2015, Kathleen O’Brien was found guilty of three counts of child abuse and one count of disorderly conduct, and Martin O’Brien was convicted of four counts of child abuse. Their sentence was one year in county jail, with privileges, meaning they only have to sleep in jail. As a result of cases like this, and others (it’s been reported that 19 Russian children have died in American homes since 1998), Russia banned adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens in 2012. Watch more here.