LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A 9-year-old boy originally from Russia who was killed in a Nebraska house fire has been laid to rest, but prosecutors and the Russian government are seeking more information about his death.
Nearly 200 people gathered at a Lincoln church Wednesday to mourn the death of Anton Fomin, who was alone when his legal guardians' house caught fire May 17 in the town of Davey, Neb.
His death prompted a Russian government official to call for more information about the case, while the U.S. Embassy in Moscow emphasized that the boy immigrated to the United States with his biological parents before he was placed with a different family.
However, the boy hadn't lived with his parents since 2005, according to court records. His father died of cancer in August 2008, and friends said he asked for his son to live with a family from church because of his wife's mental health issues.
Church officials who knew Anton, his parents and the boy's legal guardians said Russian officials were unfairly comparing the child's death to other high-profile U.S. cases that have involved abuse of adopted Russian children.
Anton's legal guardian, Slavik Sinchuk, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that earlier media reports about the boy being locked in a basement were untrue.
Pavel Astakhov, Russia's ombudsman for children's rights, sent a statement to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday seeking more information about the case.
"It is necessary to determine whether the adoptive parents were at fault in the death of the child," he said. "Adoptive parents should be required to bear greater responsibility for the life and health of their children."
Fire investigators referred questions to prosecutors. Chief Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon said Wednesday that his office won't have much information to release until the investigation is complete, which could take 30 days because toxicology tests are being performed to determine how the boy died.
It's also not clear what caused the fire.
Officials with the Russian consulate have asked prosecutors in Lancaster County for information on the case. Condon said the county attorney's office will provide it after the probe is done.
Anton's youth pastor at House of Prayer Church in Lincoln, Oleg Stepanyuk, and Sinchuk said the boy was asleep before the fire started. Stepanyuk, who often served as an English translator for the boy, said Anton had grown to love the family that had become his legal guardians.
"He was loved. He loved being there," Stepanyuk told the AP. "He was feeding chickens and dogs there, and really, the last three years he lived there were some of the happiest of his life."
Sinchuk said he and his wife left home to visit Sinchuk's father in Lincoln and let Anton stay asleep in his basement bedroom because they didn't want to disturb the boy.
They returned 30 to 45 minutes later and found the house burning, Sinchuk said, adding that he didn't know how the fire started. He said neighbors reported hearing an explosion shortly before the blaze.
Church pastor Bogdan Stebanyek said Anton's father, while dying of cancer, asked that the boy be placed in the care of another family because Anton's mother had mental health issues.
Stebanyek, speaking in Russian with help from an English translator, said the church tried to connect the boy with a member family that had children his age. Anton went to a family that had four other children. Another family took in Anton's older brother, Mikhail, now 20 and enrolled in a community college.
Stebanyek said Anton left the family that took him after one year. The man of the house was a truck driver and often was away from home, and the woman struggled to care for all the children.
The woman's sister — Sinchuk's wife — offered to take Anton.
Russia has long demanded that the U.S. tighten controls over Americans who adopt its children, in the wake of high-profile cases that infuriated top Russian officials.
Last week, an American woman who adopted a Russian boy and later sent him back on a one-way flight to Moscow was ordered to pay a sum of $150,000 and an additional $1,000 per month in child support until he becomes an adult.
In November 2011, Russian officials reacted with outrage to what they considered a lax sentence for a Pennsylvania couple originally charged with murder for the death of their 7-year-old son adopted from Russia. Michael and Nanette Craver were sentenced to 16 months to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Russian officials have claimed that at least 17 adopted Russian children have died in domestic violence in American families.
Associated Press writer Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.
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