Wearing jail stripes and handcuffs, Natalie Renee Russell spoke exclusively to ABC15 about the charges she is facing in connection with the death of her 22-month-old daughter, Adalynn.
Russell admitted she was nervous and anxious, and the last few weeks in jail had been rough as she went through a detox regimen to recover from drug addiction. Russell admitted that she felt sober for the first time in 13 years.
"It's been really rough. I've had a few seizures; I'm a lot better now. To be honest with you I don't even know what it's like to be sober anymore," said Russell.
Along with being sober came a big realization that she couldn't escape any longer: The fact that her beloved daughter was dead, and she was in jail for the crime. Russell called Adalynn an "old soul" who loved to take care of her baby brother.
"She always wanted to sleep next to him at night. If he woke up, she would go to the fridge by herself and get the breast milk. She was really smart," said Russell.
The mother admitted she made a lot of mistakes, many of which she said came from her addiction to Methadone. Russell had several encounters with the Department of Child Safety and had her kids taken away from her. She says she fought hard to win her children back.
"I did everything DCS asked and then some. I fought them for nine months, emailed them every day asking 'When do I get my kid back?'"
She said she went above the needed requirements. Sat through 18 parenting classes, substance abuse classes, and logged 180 hours with Alcoholics Anonymous, but Russell admits, even after winning custody of her children, she was overwhelmed and reached out to DCS for help several times. The last time she asked for help was just a few days before the tragedy, when a DCS caseworker showed up at her home to "check in" on a previous case involving another child.
Russell said she told the caseworker she felt overwhelmed and needed help but was told the case was closed.
"The DCS caseworker just asked my child 'Do you have food?' and my son opened the fridge and brought her a thing of applesauce. She asked him, 'Do you feel scared?' [and] he said no. She asked him 'Do you want to stay with your mom?' he said 'Yes, I love my mom,'" and she was told there was nothing else DCS could do.
Russell says she does not blame DCS for the death of her child. She blames herself.
"I was supposed to protect my children. I take full responsibility for that. I would never give my daughter meth. I will fight that until however long it takes me in here," said Russell.
DCS issued a statement saying Russell had fulfilled all requirements to get her children back, but officials declined ABC15's repeated requests for an interview regarding Russell's case.
Throughout the interview with ABC15 Russell emphasized several times that while she was at fault for not noticing her daughter had taken the Methadone, she vehemently denied police allegations that she gave the child meth in an attempt to counter the Methadone.
Toxicology reports showed Adalynn died of methadone and methamphetamine overdose.
"I'm heartbroken over it. I know that I should have gotten off the Methadone. She's my daughter, and now she's gone. I just want everybody to know that I would never, ever give her the meth. Ever," said Russell.
On the day of the tragedy Russell said she had told staff members at the Methadone clinic that she wanted to stop taking the drug. She was on a high dose because she had built up immunity to it over the last five years. Russell said she took 250 mg of Methadone a day, and it made her very tired at night. Workers at the clinic told her it was not a good idea to quit, as the success rate for rehab was low due to her high dosage.
Russell said on the night of Adalynn's death she went to a neighborhood potluck. Later at home, while changing the baby's diaper, she noticed her Methadone spilled over on the desk.
"The Methadone is dripping down the front of my desk, it's spilled over," said Russell. Her friend told her that her son had taken the Methadone, so Russell said she was trying to keep a close eye on him, while Adalynn was on the couch watching "Beethoven." Russell said she fell asleep on the couch with her daughter and woke up to find her dead.
She said talking about that night gave her anxiety and did not want to discuss the investigation further, but said she should have taken both her children to the hospital right away, as soon as she noticed the Methadone was spilled.
"I was scared that if go rush to the hospital and nothing happened, then they're going to take my kids from me," said Russell.
In jail, Russell is talking to a counselor about the death of her daughter, finally coming to terms with it.
"I've had to tell myself she's alive just to get through the day," Russell explained. She said she had a picture of Adalynn in her jail cell and would talk to her often, telling her how much she missed her and loved her.
Even though her trial was months away, Russell said she felt like she had already been given a life sentence: One without her daughter.
"That is a life sentence. Nothing is going to bring her back," said Russell.
Earlier this week a grand jury reduced charges in the case from first-degree to second-degree murder with extreme indifference to human life.
Russell is now in protective custody due to the high-profile nature of her case.