6 June 2024

A Utah woman who once provided parenting advice to more than two million YouTube followers remained in custody Saturday, charged with child abuse after her “emaciated” son escaped to look for food, officials said.

Both Ruby Franke and her business partner and collaborator Jodi Hildebrandt were arrested, according to a statement from the public safety department of Ivins, a small town in southwestern Utah.

Franke’s now defunct “8 Passengers” YouTube site, in which she and husband Kevin shared experiences raising their six children, offered lessons in strict discipline — so strict that many viewers had complained previously.

The statement from the Ivins health department said someone had phoned on Wednesday to report that a juvenile “who appeared to be emaciated and malnourished” had climbed out of a window in his house and come pleading for food and water.

The youth had “open wounds and duct tape around the extremities,” the statement said.

A police officer said the boy, apparently aged 12, had deep lacerations from being “tied with a rope,” the local St. George News reported.

That child, and another found in a nearby home, were taken by ambulance to a hospital for treatment, the statement said.

A subsequent house search found evidence “consistent with the markings found on the juvenile.”

Local police and family services officials removed a total of four minor children from their parents’ custody, the statement said.

The two women were formally charged on Friday in Washington County, the St. George News said. They each face charges of aggravated child abuse.

It was not the family’s first encounter with child and family services.

In 2020, officials were called to the Franke home after one son said on YouTube that he had been forced for seven months to sleep on a beanbag chair as punishment for an infraction.

His parents told reporters that the matter had been taken out of context.

That incident and others drew angry criticism online that the Frankes were harsh and extreme in their child-rearing techniques, including withholding food as a form of discipline.

Two women who said they were Ruby Franke’s sisters said in social media posts Friday that the arrests were “necessary” and would finally ensure their children’s safety.

Franke and Hildebrandt are being held without bail at the Purgatory Correctional Facility in the nearby town of Hurricane, the St. George News said.

No court date has been set in the case.

It was not immediately clear what charges, if any, Kevin Franke might face.

By Agence Frane-Presse