Russia investigating adopted Wake girl's death

Date: 2005-07-10

Toby Coleman

Nina Hilt did not live long. But the Wake Forest toddler's death last week has sparked investigations as far away as Siberia.

Since Virginia police charged her adoptive mother, Peggy Sue Hilt, with murder in connection with her violent death, investigators from the 2-year-old's native Siberia have begun looking into her adoption. Russian diplomats in Washington also have become involved.

Beyond the Triangle, Nina Hilt's death has spotlighted a group of American adoption agencies that operate in Russia without government accreditation. These "independent" adoption agencies do not require prospective parents to undergo as much scrutiny as government-recognized agencies, according to the National Council for Adoption, a nonprofit that monitors adoption laws.

Eliminating independent adoptions "would greatly reduce the risk of future tragedies such as Nina Hilt's," the council said late last week in a news release.

In January 2004, Peggy Hilt and her husband, Christopher, relied on an independent adoption agency to obtain custody of Nina Hilt, according to the National Council for Adoption and Novosti, a Russian news service. The News & Observer is not naming the agency because it could not independently confirm its involvement in the adoption of the girl.

Nina came to the Triangle a few months later after her new parents bought a $368,500 house at 9212 Dansforeshire Way in Wake Forest.

In that house, Peggy Hilt gave the girl the beating that would kill her, according to a police report obtained by The Washington Post. Peggy Hilt told police that she was struck with a sudden rage about July 1 and shook the 2-year-old, dropped her on the floor and struck her with a closed fist, the Post reported.

The next day, the girl vomited as her parents drove her to Manassas, Va., to visit relatives over the holiday weekend, according to a search warrant for the Hilts' Wake Forest home. By the time the girl was taken to a Virginia hospital July 2, she had bruises on her chin, rib cage and between her eyebrows, the Post reported.

Nina died after she arrived at the hospital. Doctors there determined her injuries were consistent with severe physical abuse and possible sexual abuse, according to the Wake Forest search warrant.

The public learned of Nina's death after police in Prince William County, Va., arrested Peggy Hilt on a murder charge. Hilt, 33, is listed as the president of Hiltech, her husband's computer consulting firm. Her husband has not been charged in Nina's death.

The Russian government was quick to express its outrage at her alleged mistreatment.

"This is a crime, and the person guilty needs to be punished," said Yevgeny Khorishko, the spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington.

The news of Nina's death came a month after the Russian government refused to certify three U.S.-based adoption agencies because it did not think they had properly monitored the home lives of the orphans in the United States.

The Prosecutor-General's Office in Nina's home region, Irkutsk Oblast, announced that investigators were looking into her adoption to see if it complied with Russian law.

Staff writer Toby Coleman can be reached at 829-8937 or tcoleman@newsobserver.com.

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