The Utah mom behind a once-famous family YouTube channel was taken into custody Wednesday on two counts of aggravated child abuse, according to court records.
Ruby Franke, the momfluencer behind the now-defunct channel “8 Passengers,” was arrested after authorities received a report about a juvenile in need of help, the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department said in a Thursday press release.
Arresting documents obtained by Salt Lake City station Fox 13 describe an “emaciated” child climbing out of a window and running to a neighbor’s home to ask for food and water. The neighbor alerted police, the documents say, after noticing the child had “open wounds” and duct tape wrapped “around the extremities.”
The child’s condition was “so severe,” police said, that they were hospitalized. In the home from which the child escaped, investigators found a second child “in similar physical condition of malnourishment.” Four minors in the home were eventually taken into the care of the Department of Child and Family Services, according to officials.
The home belonged to Franke’s business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, who was also arrested.
On Wednesday, Franke’s eldest child, Shari, took to her Instagram Story to post a photo of what appeared to be her mother’s arrest. “Finally,” the 20-year-old captioned it, adding in another Story that “me and my family are so glad justice is being served.”
“We’ve been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this,” she wrote, “and so glad they finally decided to step up.” She added that the children “are safe, but there’s a long road ahead.”
Before it was abruptly taken down without explanation earlier this year, “8 Passengers”—which followed the lives of Franke, her husband Kevin, and their six children, including Shari—boasted nearly 2.5 million followers.
On Thursday night, Kevin Franke’s attorney told Page Six that his “urgent focus is simply to keep his children together under his fatherly care.” It was not immediately clear if Kevin and Ruby Franke were still a couple, or if they separated prior to the arrest.
Though Kevin was at one point an associate professor in Brigham Young University’s civil engineering department, a spokesperson for the school told Insider that he had stopped working there earlier this year.
Shari, a student at Brigham Young, cut ties with her mother last year. In an April podcast interview, she cited Franke’s involvement with ConneXions, a so-called personal improvement group run by Hildebrandt, as the reason the two no longer spoke.
“Some things within my family were happening that I started to question like, I don’t know if this is okay,” Shari said. “I didn’t know where to draw the line between life coaching and the gospel.”
In June 2022, as fans wondered why the family had stopped uploading to their channel as frequently, Franke announced on her Instagram Story that she had stopped vlogging to commit to ConneXions full time.
But viewers had begun to speculate about possible abuse happening inside the home as early as 2020. That summer, social media users began sharing a vlog clip of the Frankes’ 15-year-old son, Chad, talking about being made to sleep “on a beanbag” for seven months as punishment for pranking his little brother.
“My bedroom was taken away,” Chad said, according to an Insider report at the time.
Viewers who subsequently went back and trawled through the family’s vlogs dug up clips of Franke talking about not feeding her “literally starving” children until they completed their chores. In another, she explained she wouldn’t bring her daughter Eve lunch after the 6-year-old forgot to pack her own for school.
Ruby and Kevin Franke denied the abuse allegations at the time, telling Insider that the clips were taken out of context, and that they were teaching their children the consequences of their actions.
Meanwhile, Franke and Hildebrandt continued to work together. Franke began working as a “life coach” for ConneXions, giving her audience harmful and draconian parenting advice. She began uploading “workshop” videos to the ConneXions YouTube channel, including one in which she bragged about taking away Christmas from her 8- and 10-year-old children as a punishment method. Critics began describing the group as a “cult.”
In March, the pair launched a parental support group on Facebook called “Moms of Truth.” There, they reportedly doled out homophobic advice, belittled eating disorders, and trafficked in anti-vaccine rhetoric, according to a gossip blog that tracked the saga.
In a joint Instagram statement on Thursday, Franke’s three sisters—all also parenting influencers—said that the arrests “needed to happen.”
“For the last 3 years we have kept quiet on the subject of our sister Ruby Franke for the sake of her children,” Ellie Mecham, Bonnie Hoellein, and Julie Deru said. “Behind the public scene we have done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe.”