Ruby Franke, a Utah mom who rose to fame documenting her family’s life on the YouTube channel “8 Passengers,” has been arrested on suspicion of aggravated child abuse. Her business partner Jodi Hildebrandt has also been arrested on the same charges.
For followers of Franke’s social media presence, these charges come as no surprise, as the mom of six has faced criticism for years over her strict parenting style.
The arrest of Franke and Hildebrandt came after authorities say they received a report from a neighbour about an “emaciated and malnourished” juvenile in need of help on Wednesday morning.
The child had open wounds on his body and duct tape wrapped around his extremities. He was asking for food and water. When emergency medical workers arrived on scene, the child’s condition was so severe that he was transported to a local hospital, police said.
“Information was obtained by police that other juveniles in similar condition may be in a nearby home,” the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department wrote in a press release.
When police searched the home, they found another child in a similar emaciated condition. She was also taken to a local hospital for treatment.
According to an affidavit filed by an officer with the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department, the child who escaped the home was Franke’s 12-year-old son, who climbed out of a window in Hildebrant’s residence in Ivins, Utah, CBS reported. The officer added that Franke’s son had “deep lacerations from being tied up with rope.”
The other emaciated child found in the residence was Franke’s 10-year-old daughter.
A search warrant for the home was obtained and police found evidence “consistent with the markings found on the juvenile,” according to the release.
The Department of Child and Family Services was contacted and two more children were removed from the home and taken into state care.
Both Franke and Hildebrant were arrested Wednesday and have been denied bail. They are currently in custody, according to online booking records.
Court documents obtained by local television station KUTV show that just two days prior to the women’s arrests, they were filming YouTube videos in the home where the children were found. The reports state that the video served as evidence the women were “present in the home and having knowledge of the abuse, malnourishment, and neglect.”
Rumours of child abuse circulated for years
Franke was once a popular family vlogger and her channel 8 Passengers amassed about 2.5 million subscribers at its peak. The channel was removed from YouTube earlier this year for unknown reasons, NBC reported.
Franke’s vlogs followed the lives of her, her husband Kevin and their six children: Shari, Chad, Abby, Julie, Russell and Eve.
Before the channel was removed, it had faced a “downward spiral” in recent years over allegations of child abuse and criticism of the Frankes’ strict parenting style, according to Insider.
Rumours of child abuse in the Franke household began in 2020 when one of the kids, Chad, who was 15 at the time, disclosed in a video that he had had his bedroom taken away for playing pranks on his little brother and he had been sleeping on a bean bag chair for months.
In another video, Franke said she received a call from the teacher of her then-six-year-old daughter Eve because the child came to school without a packed lunch. The teacher wanted Franke to drive over and bring Eve something to eat.
“But I responded and said, ‘Eve is responsible for making her own lunches in the morning, so the natural outcome is she is just going to be hungry,'” Franke said in the vlog. “And hopefully nobody gives her food and nobody steps in and gives her lunch.”
In an interview with Insider at the time, Franke said she gave her children “choices” and was teaching them about consequences.
“What people aren’t understanding is that we give our children choice in everything,” Franke said. “We are teaching our children to be self-governing.”
These two incidents caused much uproar against the family, and the Frankes started posting less and less until the videos stopped altogether.
In 2022, Franke announced she was forming a new channel with Hildebrandt called ConneXions, described as a mom’s “support group.” This channel has also faced backlash for its unorthodox parenting advice.
According to Insider, in one video, the pair say parents should not love their children unconditionally and that kids don’t deserve privacy from their parents.
Franke’s family reacts to arrest
After Franke was arrested, her oldest daughter Shari, 20, posted a photo of a police car outside a home to her Instagram story with the caption, “Finally.”
In a followup Instagram story, Shari wrote: “Me and my family are so glad justice is being served. We’ve been trying to tell the police and (Child Protective Services) for years about this, and so glad they finally decided to step up. Kids are safe, but there’s a long road ahead.”
A joint Instagram post from two of Franke’s sisters states her arrest “needed to happen.”
“For the past 3 years, we have kept quiet on the subject of our sister Ruby Franke for the sake of her children. Behind the public scene we have done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe,” the post from Elle Mechem and Julie Griffiths Deru reads.
Franke and Hildebrandt could face up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to US$10,000 if found guilty of intentional aggravated child abuse. In Utah, aggravated child abuse is defined as any act that “inflicts upon a child serious physical injury.”