A Utah woman who gave online parenting advice via a once-popular YouTube channel was charged Friday with six felony counts of aggravated child abuse after two of her six children were found abused and malnourished, authorities said.
Ruby Franke, whose now-defunct channel “8 Passengers” chronicled her family life, was arrested Wednesday night in the southern Utah city of Ivins. She was taken into custody at the home of Jodi Hildebrandt, who owns a counseling business that she says teaches people to improve their lives by being honest, responsible and humble. Hildebrandt was also arrested Wednesday and faces the same six abuse charges.
Franke appears in YouTube videos with Hildebrandt that were posted online by Hildebrandt’s counseling business, ConneXions Classroom.
Prosecutors allege Franke and Hildebrandt either caused or allowed someone to torture Franke’s 12-year-old son and injure her 10-year-old daughter. Both children were starved and harmed emotionally, prosecutors said.
Both women are being held without the possibility of posting bail, court records said.
Wednesday morning, Franke's son climbed out of a window in Hildebrandt's residence and ran to a neighbor's house, asking for food and water, according to an affidavit filed by an officer with the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department.
The neighbor saw duct tape on the boy's ankles and wrists and called law enforcement, the affidavit said. The boy was taken to a hospital, where he was put on a medical hold “due to his deep lacerations from being tied up with rope and from his malnourishment,” arrest records state.
Franke's daughter was later found malnourished in Hildebrandt's house and was also taken to the hospital, officers said. Two of Franke's other children were placed in the custody of child protection services, the affidavit said.
The Franke family was criticized online for its “8 Passengers” video blog showing parenting decisions including banning their oldest son from his bedroom for seven months for pranking his younger brother, and also sending him to a wilderness therapy camp for undisclosed reasons. In other videos, Ruby Franke talked about refusing to take lunch to a kindergartener who forgot it at home, threatening to cut the head off a young girl's stuffed toy to punish her for cutting things in the house.
In one video, Franke said she and her husband told their two youngest children that they would not be getting presents from Santa Claus one year because they had been selfish and weren't responding to punishment like being kept home from school and cleaning the floorboards.
“It's because they're so numb, and the more numb your child is the bigger the outcome they need to wake them up,” Franke said in a video.
Some critics started an online petition asking child protective services to get involved. The Franke's oldest daughter cut ties with her parents, she has said in social media posts.
The YouTube channel, which started in 2015, ended after seven years.
After her arrest, Franke requested an attorney and did not speak with officers, the affidavit said. That attorney had not publicly been identified Thursday.
A voicemail left at a phone listing for Ruby Franke’s husband seeking comment on the arrest was referred to his attorney, Randy S. Kester. Kester said he was representing Kevin Franke's interests in keeping his children together and in his care, and that he could not comment on Ruby Franke's arrest.
Voicemails left with Hildebrandt’s counseling business seeking comment on Thursday and Friday were not returned.
While the children were found at Hildebrandt's house, Franke had been seen on a YouTube video filmed at Hildebrandt's house and posted two days earlier, indicating that Franke was present at the residence and had knowledge of the abuse, malnourishment and neglect, arrest records said.