A Utah mother of six who gave parenting advice via a once-popular YouTube channel called “8 Passengers” is scheduled to make an initial court appearance Friday on charges that she and the owner of a relationship counseling business abused and starved her two young children.
Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt were charged with six felony counts of aggravated child abuse after their arrests on Aug. 30 at Hildebrandt’s house in the southern Utah city of Ivins. They are scheduled to appear at a brief, virtual hearing later Friday.
Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped the house that morning and asked a neighbor to call police, according to the 911 call released by the St. George Police Department.
The boy was emaciated and had duct tape around his ankles and wrists, but wouldn’t say why, the caller reported.
“I think he’s been … he’s been detained,” the caller said, his voice breaking up. “He’s obviously covered in wounds.”
As the dispatcher was asking questions, the boy said he didn’t know where his mom was and that his dad was not in the area. The boy said two siblings, ages 10 and 14, were still at Hildebrandt’s house.
“He says everything’s fine with them,” the caller told the dispatcher. “He says what’s happened to him is his fault.”
While waiting for police and paramedics, the caller expressed concern that Hildebrandt may come looking for the boy.
Prosecutors allege the women either caused or allowed someone to torture Franke’s son and injure her 10-year-old daughter. Both children were starved and harmed emotionally, court records said. It’s unclear why the children were at Hildebrandt’s home.
The 12- and 10-year-old were taken to the hospital, police said. They along with two other of Franke’s children were taken into the custody of child protective services.
Both Franke, 41, and Hildebrandt, 54, have been held without bail since their arrests that night.
Their attorneys — Lamar Winward for Franke and Douglas Terry for Hildebrandt — did not return phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on Thursday.
Franke was known for sharing her family’s life on their video blog.
She and her husband received criticism over their parenting decisions, including banning their oldest son from his bedroom for seven months for pranking his younger brother. In one video, Ruby Franke talked about refusing to take lunch to a kindergartener who forgot it at home. Another showed her 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 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, Sherri Franke, cut ties with her parents, she has said in social media posts. The YouTube channel, which was started in 2015, ended after seven years.
Police records from Springville, Utah — where the Franke family lived — show Sherri Franke called police on Sept. 18, 2022, to report her brothers and sisters had been left home alone for days. Police also spoke with neighbors, but were unable to contact the children. A report was made to Child and Family Services, according to the police report.
Records show officers stopped by the house four more times from Sept. 22 through Oct. 3.
Hildebrandt owns a counseling business called ConneXions. The business’ website said Franke provides content for social media and podcasts. ConneXions videos featuring Hildebrandt and Franke were removed from YouTube after the women were charged.
The state of Utah began efforts to try to “take appropriate action” on Hildebrandt’s clinical mental health counseling license after her arrest, said Melanie Hall, spokesperson for the Department of Commerce, which includes the state’s Professional Licensing Division. If someone facing professional discipline declines to surrender their license, they are given an opportunity to respond and a hearing can be held, she said.
The agency is working with the Attorney General’s Office about possibly holding an emergency hearing of the licensing board in Hildebrandt’s case, Hall said.