Ruby Franke, the mother behind the defunct family YouTube channel "8 Passengers," was arrested on two counts of aggravated child abuse Wednesday after police found a malnourished child with open wounds and duct tape on their extremities.
Franke was arrested alongside her business partner and collaborator, Jodi Hildebrandt, who is the founder of the controversial life counseling organization ConneXions. The two women create advice videos that critics say promote a harsh style of parenting.
Franke has come under fire in the past for her now-deleted parenting vlogs. Viewers have accused Franke and her husband, Kevin, of being abusive for years.
Ruby Franke and Hildebrandt did not respond to emails and calls requesting comment. It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys representing them.
As news of the arrests circulates, here’s what to know about the controversial family influencer.
Who is Ruby Franke and what is '8 Passengers'?
Franke and her husband launched their family YouTube channel, "8 Passengers," in early 2015. The channel chronicled the lives of the couple and their six children: Shari, Chad, Abby, Julie, Russell and Eve. The channel had nearly 2.3 million subscribers.
As many family channels on YouTube do, "8 Passengers" focused on Ruby and Kevin Franke’s parenting style, the children’s upbringing and discipline as the kids grew up in Utah. The parents, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also shared their children’s home schooling.
As of Thursday, the channel was not available on YouTube. YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking when and why the channel had been removed. Forbes reported the channel had been taken down earlier this year.
Kevin Franke referred NBC News to his attorney, Randy Kester, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. NBC News also reached out to Ruby and Kevin Franke’s adult children, Shari Frankie and Chad Franke. Shari Franke did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment. Chad Franke could not immediately be reached for comment.
What is the criticism against the Frankes?
Family channels, which typically showcase parents raising their infants, toddlers and young children, have become a contentious part of the YouTube ecosystem in recent years. Some parents have lost custody of children after viewers reported their behavior to the authorities. Others have been scrutinized for exploiting their underage children for views.
Although the Frankes grew a sizable following, the family became the subject of harsh criticisms in recent years, including allegations of child abuse.
Local child protective services were reportedly called in June 2020 after a Change.org petition called on the family to be investigated. The petition cited an example from a now-deleted video that showed then-15-year-old Chad sharing that he’d slept on a bean bag for seven months as a punishment for behavioral issues.
Insider reported at the time that Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services visited the Franke household but closed the case due to unsupported claims.
A spokesperson for the division told NBC News in an email Thursday that it could not share information about a case “both past and present, or confirm involvement with a child or family,” citing confidentiality and privacy reasons.
The Frankes have also been criticized for refusing to bring their then-6-year-old daughter lunch at school after she forgot to pack one, threatening to throw away their prized possessions and denying her children personal space.
ConneXions, Jodi Hildebrandt’s life coaching service that focuses on parenting and relationships, is also known for its strict teachings on parenting. Some critics have found the lessons to be extreme, including one video in which Ruby Franke and Hildebrandt say a child who refuses to abide by their “principles of truth” does not love unconditionally and may be cut off from their families.
Franke frequently makes videos with Hildebrandt for ConneXions. She is listed as a part of the business team for ConneXions. The ConneXions website describes Franke as a “certified mental fitness trainer” for the organization.
What are the accusations against Franke?
Franke was arrested Wednesday in Utah on aggravated child abuse charges after a malnourished child with open wounds and duct tape on their extremities was found, officials announced. Hildebrandt was arrested on the same charges.
In Utah, aggravated child abuse is defined as an act that “inflicts upon a child serious physical injury” or “causes or permits another to inflict serious physical injury upon a child.”
The Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department said in a statement Thursday that evidence led them to a nearby home where a second child was found in similar condition. Both children were taken to a hospital. Four minors were also taken into the care of the Division of Child and Family Services.
What is the response from Franke’s family?
Shari Franke, the eldest Franke child, posted an Instagram Story on Wednesday evening saying that it had been a “big day.”
“Me and my family are so glad justice is being served,” the story said. “We’ve been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this, and so glad they finally decided to step up.”
She added that the “kids are safe, but there’s a long road ahead.”
Shari Franke previously shared that she was no longer in contact with her immediate family and did not support the “extreme” beliefs of ConneXions, according to Insider.
Elle Mechem, Julie Griffiths Deru and Bonnie Hoellein, three women who say they are Ruby Franke’s sisters and who are also family influencers, shared a joint Instagram post saying 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,” the post read. “Behind the public scene we have done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe.”
Mechem, Deru and Hoellein did not immediately respond to requests for comment.