What happened to the perfect child, Sabrina Caldwell? Sabrina Caldwell’s amazing story


Sabrina Caldwell


A Russian girl was adopted by an American couple more than 20 year ago. She was brought back to Moscow by her parents who claim she tried killing her little brother. What happened to that little girl?!  And how did she end up back in the United States? 


Crystal and Jesse were young, married couple looking to start a family in 1997. After trying unsuccessfully for years to have a child, they decided to adopt. They came across a Russian agency’s website, and saw a photo featuring a 9-year-old girl. Crystal said, “She was beautiful.” “We thought… this was an older child we could give a normal, happy life to.” The couple were excited to begin the adoption process.  

A look at the medical records

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Crystal and Jesse received her medical records from the agency. The documents described the child as intelligent and outgoing. But one thing stood out. Crystal stated that they did mention she was oligophrenic. This translated to mental retardation back then. The agency advised the couple to not be concerned. Crystal stated, “They said it was a development delay.” “And we were assured that this child was healthy and that in a good home … with the best doctors in America helping her with the developmental issues, that she should be fine.”

The daughter they’ve always wanted

Crystal and Jesse


Jesse and Crystal traveled to Borovichi, Russia in July 1997. After a long journey,  they were finally united with their new daughter, who they called Caralee. “She looked in my eyes very deeply, and said, ‘You’re my Mama.’ Crystal replied.

They also adopted a son.

Crystal and Jesse


They also adopted a 3-yearold boy named Joshua.

Early warning signs of trouble

Sabrina Caldwell


Crystal and Jesse noticed certain characteristics in Caralee’s behavior as they were completing the adoption. Crystal said that although they could see the anger, it could also be explained. “Certainly a child arriving to a new culture, a new family …leaving her home. It’s all she knows.” 

More problems at home

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After the family returned to America, they moved into a new Georgia house. Crystal and Jesse discovered that Caralee became withdrawn and angry very soon. Crystal quit her job to spend more quality time with Caralee. However, things continued to get worse.

“I’m going to kill him”

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Crystal said the unthinkable happened on the day after Christmas 1998. Crystal was planting, Caralee’s son Joshua was playing in the yard while Crystal was still planting. Crystal was planting when her 4-year-old son suddenly screamed. She looked up and saw that Caralee was holding Joshua above the railing of the 30-foot-high deck. 

Roberts was told by Crystal that “Her face, there were anger and hatred.” Crystal demanded Caralee lay down her brother and asked her what she was doing. “I’m gonna murder him,” she replied. ‘Why?’  Crystal asked her daughter. “‘I’m mad at him’… I said…’You don’t mean kill him.’ She replied, “Yes, I do.”

The situation gets worse

Crystal and Jesse


Caralee, aside from the incident on deck, also reported to her parents that she was hearing voices in her head and was hallucinating. Caralee was admitted to a mental hospital by her parents. She spent the next few months in therapeutic care.

A closer look at their daughter’s history

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Crystal and Jesse had their daughter in treatment. They received more documents by the adoption agency, which revealed disturbing details about Caralee’s upbringing. Crystal said, “It states that the mother is amoral & antisocial.” The documents also said that Caralee was left “dirty, hungry, and in rags” by her birth mother. Caralee spent her time at the Russian orphanage in a special dorm that houses children with mental disabilities. Crystal and Jesse stated that this was critical information that the adoption agency did not share with them.

We did not withhold any information

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Nina Kostina helped arrange Caralee’s adoption  in 1997. She denied disclosing any information with Crystal and Jesse. She explained that Russian privacy laws had limited her access to medical information. Kostina said that once the parents are in the orphanage they have access to all medical records, including those of the doctors. “And this is their chance to ask any question.”

Caralee returns home

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After almost four months in therapeutic treatment, Crystal and Jesse had no choice but to bring Caralee home as their insurance ran out. They believed that Joshua was still a danger to their daughter. Jesse said that she repeated this for months: “If I get another opportunity, I will kill Joshua.” Jesse installed security cameras throughout his house and set up an alarm at Caralee’s bedroom.

Joshua goes to grandma’s house

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Caralee was given heavy medication but her parents told her they weren’t working.

Crystal and Jesse still worried about Joshua despite the security cameras being installed in their home. They decided to send Joshua 600 miles away to live with his grandmother in Texas. “Why should we send him away to grandma’s house to keep his safety?” Crystal asked Caralee. Caralee replied, “Because he may hurt me.”

Diagnostics by a psychiatrist

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Dr. Brian Kennedy, a psychiatrist, was one of the ones who saw Caralee. He explained to Caralee that she had an attachment disorder. This is a condition in which Caralee is unable to love. Dr. Kennedy stated that Caralee loves to smile and laugh. “But when you look at her past and how she handles stress, you can see that she can be very different and even have significant rage.”

Opinion of another doctor

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Other doctors who treated Caralee had their concerns as well, but at least one psychiatrist offered a different opinion. After treating Caralee during her stay at the psychiatric hospital, this doctor wrote, “Caralee’s behavior … was impeccable,” and that his staff perceived Crystal and Jesse as “too often cool and distant” towards their daughter.

Out of options

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Jesse and Crystal felt they had no other options, nearly a year after the incident. They had to make a difficult choice in the winter 1999. Jesse stated, “We cannot continue being her parents.” They used their life savings to bring Caralee home to Russia to be treated in a psychiatric hospital.

Return to Russia

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Crystal and Jesse made arrangements for Caralee’s stay at a children’s psychiatric facility after they arrived in Moscow. Before she entered, Caralee shared something she had never spoken before to Troy Roberts on “48 Hours.” Caralee clarified, “I didn’t try to kill my brother.” “I just tried … to pick him up … because he was too heavy … I love him. It’s a mystery to Mom and Dad.”

No turning back

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Crystal and Jesse believed they had done everything possible, despite what she said to Roberts. In the end, Caralee was taken to the psychiatric facility by Jesse and the couple left her there. 

The last visit

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“48 Hours,” a hidden camera operator, returned to Caralee’s room with a hidden camera a few days later. Roberts was told that Caralee said she didn’t feel safe. “I want to return to America. I don’t want to stay here. Crystal and Jesse didn’t return to get her. They also annulled their adoption in 2000, shortly after they had left.

What happened to the little girl’s little sister?

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Roberts had seen Caralee at the Russian hospital the last time he saw her. He tried several times over the years to contact her but was unsuccessful. Roberts stated, “I was always curious about her, how she was doing, and if she was happy.” “I’ve always kept my daughter in my thoughts and in mine.” Caralee finally reached out to him after more than two decades.

The reunion

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Roberts was reunited with Caralee in the summer 2021. She now calls herself Sabrina and is married to Sabrina. They have four children. They met in North Carolina, near Sabrina. How did she get here? Roberts met with Sabrina in order to find out.

“I wanted out”

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Sabrina said that Crystal and Jesse treated Sabrina like Joshua was their favorite, which made her feel unwelcome. Roberts heard her tell Roberts that she was depressed and even suicidal. Sabrina then said that she had created a story. Sabrina stated, “I told Crystal, “You know, I’m hearing and seeing things.” “‘Cause it was my desire to leave.”

Sabrina’s Story

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Sabrina had a different version about what happened on the deck in 1998. Crystal asked Sabrina if she wanted to go to Joshua’s house. Sabrina replied that she struggled to drag her brother down the stairs. He was too big and was sliding out of her hands. Sabrina said that she tried to explain to Crystal. “And she was like ‘No. You wanted to kill him. Sabrina explained to Roberts that she kept repeating it. “I finally said yes.”

“I put myself there”

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Sabrina remembered learning that she was returning home to Russia after she had met with different psychiatrists. Crystal said that they were running out options. Sabrina stated that they believe the Russian institute will be a better option. Sabrina told Crystal and Jesse that they had left her at the Moscow hospital. “I felt like I was in jail, but then I think of it — I put myself there,” she said. “All those [sic] Lying and doing what they want [sic] me to do. “I put myself there.”

A fresh start

Sabrina Caldwell


Sabrina spent two years in the mental hospital before Nina Kostina took her home to the United States. Sabrina was then adopted by a North Carolina family in 2002. She lived there until shortly before she graduated high school.

Volunteer work

Sabrina Caldwell


Sabrina was a volunteer for Mercy Ships in 2008 and spent two years providing medical assistance to African underprivileged children. She said, “It was a rewarding adventure.”

The love of her entire life

Sabrina Caldwell


Sabrina found a job as a nurse when she returned to North Carolina in 2010. She met Phil Caldwell, fifth-grade teacher, at church two years later. Sabrina stated that she fell in love with Caldwell when she saw him interact with children.

A family of hers

Sabrina Caldwell


Phil and Sabrina got married in 2014. They had three daughters. Sabrina gave rise to their first son last summer. Phil quit teaching recently and took a new job at the hospital where his wife works.

Sabrina now

CBS News/Ron Hill


Sabrina Caldwell claims she is not currently on any medication and that she does not suffer from any mental illnesses.

“I have learned to forgive my past”

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Sabrina also stated that she loved Crystal and Jesse as children. Roberts told her that she still has a high regard for them. “If I were in their shoes, I would probably have done almost exactly the same thing.” Except for one thing. “I wouldn’t … take a child back,” Sabrina said. She doesn’t have any hard feelings for the couple, however. She explained that she learned to forgive her past. “I have an amazing husband … I have amazing kids. But I wouldn’t be able to have the things I did.

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