A Utah mother who chronicled her strict parenting style on YouTube and other social media channels was arrested and charged with aggravated child abuse this week after one of her children climbed out a window and ran to a nearby house seeking help, officials said.
Ruby Franke, 41, was arrested on Wednesday in Ivins, a city in southern Utah, at the home of Jodi Hildebrandt, her business partner, who was also arrested. Ms. Franke hosted the now-defunct YouTube channel “8 Passengers,” where she posted videos about her parenting approach with her six children, including refusing them food as a form of punishment.
Ms. Franke and Ms. Hildebrandt were each charged on Friday with six counts of aggravated child abuse, according to the Washington County attorney’s office. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, the attorney’s office said.
According to an affidavit, Ms. Franke’s 12-year-old son, identified as R.F. in the document, climbed out a window at Ms. Hildebrandt’s home and went to a neighbor’s house on Wednesday morning, asking for food and water. The child had duct tape on his ankles and wrists, as well as open wounds. He appeared to be emaciated and malnourished.
The neighbor called the police, who then found Ms. Franke’s 10-year-old daughter, Eve, at Ms. Hildebrandt’s. She also appeared to be malnourished, the affidavit said. Both children were taken to a hospital. The boy was placed on a medical hold “due to his deep lacerations from being tied up with rope and from his malnourishment,” according to the affidavit.
Ms. Franke was seen on a YouTube video filmed in Ms. Hildebrandt’s home that was posted two days ago, the affidavit said, adding that Ms. Franke and Ms. Hildebrandt, 54, had knowledge of “the abuse, malnourishment and neglect.”
The two children were believed to be in direct care of Ms. Hildebrandt, the police said in the affidavit.
A search of Ms. Hildebrandt’s home found evidence “consistent with the markings” found on the 12-year-old, the police said in a statement. The police contacted the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, and a total of four children were taken into its care.
A judge on Thursday denied bail for both Ms. Franke and Ms. Hildebrandt because of “the severity of the injuries of her two kids located in the home,” according to court records.
At one point, Ms. Franke had nearly 2.5 million subscribers to her channel, following the lives of her six children: Shari, Chad, Abby, Julie, Russell and Eve. In 2020, Chad Franke, then 15, told YouTube viewers in one family video that he had been sleeping on a beanbag for months and that he had lost his bedroom after playing a prank on his little brother, according to Insider.
In one video recorded by Ms. Franke and reposted to TikTok, she said her daughter Eve’s teacher had called her to say Eve had come to school without a lunch. Ms. Franke said the teacher was “uncomfortable with her being hungry” but that Eve was responsible for making her own lunch, and that “the natural outcome is she is just going to be hungry.”
“Hopefully nobody gives her food, and nobody steps in and gives her a lunch, because then she’s not going to learn from it,” Ms. Franke said.
A YouTube spokeswoman, Nicole Bell, said in an email on Friday that two channels linked to Ms. Franke had been terminated.
Ms. Franke now appears on social media channels on behalf of Ms. Hildebrandt’s counseling business, ConneXions Classroom, which claims on its website to empower people by “educating them with principles of truth (learning to be honest, responsible, and humble).”
The two appeared frequently together on an Instagram account called “Moms of Truth.”
It was not immediately clear who was representing Ms. Franke or Ms. Hildebrandt. A lawyer for Ms. Franke’s husband, Kevin Franke, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Shari Franke, now a junior at Brigham Young University, posted about her mother’s arrest on Instagram, saying “justice is being served.”
“We’ve been trying to tell the police and C.P.S. for years about this, and so glad they finally decided to step up,” she wrote, referring to the Division of Child and Family Services. “Kids are safe, but there’s a long road ahead.”
She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ellie Mecham, Julie Griffiths Deru and Bonnie Hoellein, who claimed on Instagram to be Ms. Franke’s sisters, said in a statement on Thursday that they had done “everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe” over the past three years. The sisters also document their own family lives on social media.
“Ruby was arrested which needed to happen. Jodi was arrested which needed to happen,” the statement said. “The kids are now safe, which is the number one priority.”
Eduardo Medina contributed reporting.