By Kelsey Ables
Ruby Franke, a Utah mother of six who ran the well-known parenting YouTube channel 8 Passengers, has been arrested on charges of child abuse along with her business partner Jodi Hildebrandt, Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department said in a news release.
The arrests came after Franke's 12-year-old son climbed out of a window at Hildebrandt's home in Ivins, Utah, and appeared, emaciated and with open wounds, at a neighbour's, where he asked for food and water, according to an affidavit reported by the Associated Press.
After searching Hildebrandt's home, police found Franke's 10-year-old daughter in a similar malnourished state.
Hildebrandt's counselling firm ConneXions, where Franke works, did not immediately return a request for comment late Thursday.
It was not clear if either of the women had retained an attorney. Franke's husband, Kevin, was not named, and it is not clear whether the couple is still together.
Franke rose to fame in the 2010s documenting the lives of her six children to more than 2 million subscribers on the now-deleted channel 8 Passengers.
In recent years, viewers have raised concerns about Franke's harsh approach to parenting.
Here's what to know.
Who is Ruby Franke?
Ruby Franke is a 41-year-old video blogger turned "mental fitness trainer."
The Utah mother became famous for her YouTube channel featuring her husband, formerly an engineering professor at Utah's Brigham Young University, and their children - Shari, Chad, Abby, Julie, Russell and Eve. At one point, Franke was posting videos of the family five days a week.
Franke and her family are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she told local TV station KSL in 2016 that 8 Passengers had allowed them to share Mormonism "in a way that they normally wouldn't in Springville, Utah."
Franke also told KSL that filming the YouTube show was "a reminder to let my heart rate come down and to just enjoy being with the kids as they are right now."
What is 8 Passengers?
In 2015, Franke started 8 Passengers, where she discussed parenting strategies, such as what books she allowed her kids to read and shared scenes from daily life - such as family dinners, preparing meals and driving her kids around.
But videos showing Franke disciplining her children eventually sparked concern among viewers, particularly after her son Chad said in a 2020 video that he slept on a bean bag for months as a punishment.
The incident prompted viewers to dig through 8 Passengers content for evidence of any abuse.
In one widely criticized video, Franke explained why her daughter needed to go hungry to learn to pack her lunch.
In another, she threatened her child with losing the "privilege of eating dinner."
Such scenes prompted a 2020 petition calling for an investigation into the Franke parents that has received more than 17,800 signatures.
The channel fizzled out in 2021 and has since been removed from YouTube.
After Child Protection Services visited their house, Franke defended their style of parenting to Business Insider, saying: "What people aren't understanding is that we give our children choice in everything."
Who is Jodi Nan Hildebrandt?
Jodi Nan Hildebrandt is a counsellor and founder of ConneXions, a life coaching firm and YouTube channel that Franke has been working with as a mental health coach.
The two have appeared together in videos as recently as this week on ConneXions social media accounts and have advertised parenting classes together.
In 2012, Hildebrandt was put on probation for 18 months and nearly lost her license while working as a pornography-addiction therapist after she discussed a patient publicly without his permission, according to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune.
What does this mean for the family?
Upon Franke's arrest, the two malnourished children were taken to the hospital and two additional minors were taken into the custody of child protection services, according to the AP.
Franke's oldest daughter, Shari, 20, wrote on her Instagram story that she was "so glad justice is being served."
"We've been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this," she said, adding that her siblings are safe, but there's a "long road ahead."
Franke's sisters Ellie Mecham, Bonnie Hoellein and Julie Deru, also parenting influencers, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday night but posted a joint statement on their Instagram accounts about recent events, saying that Franke and Hildebrandt's arrests "needed to happen."
For the past three years, they said they kept quiet "for the sake of her children."
"The kids are now safe, which is the number one priority," they wrote.