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Mommy Blogger Arrested for Child Abuse

By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

A 12-year-old boy slipped out the window of a house in Ivins, Utah in late August 2023. He was emaciated and malnourished. There was duct tape around both of his wrists and ankles.

The boy headed for the nearest house and knocked on the door. He was hungry and thirsty and begged the adults who answered the door for food and water. The bewildered homeowners obliged, and then asked the boy about his circumstances. He'd escaped from their neighbor's house, he said. His sister was still there.

Police arrived shortly after. The boy identified himself as Russell Franke, the second youngest of former YouTube personality Ruby Franke's six children. He'd escaped from the house of Jodi Hildebrandt, his mother's friend, business partner, and (ironically) the founder of the parent counseling service ConneXions.

When asked why he hadn't called the police himself, Russell simply answered that he was afraid. He was taken to a nearby hospital and put on a medical hold due to his obvious malnutrition and lacerations from where he'd been bound with rope for some time.

The police entered Hildebrandt's home upon hearing that there may be one or more children being held inside. Once inside, they discovered 10-year-old Eve Franke, Russell's younger sister, in a similar state of malnourishment. She was also sent to a hospital. Officers subsequently executed a search warrant on Hildebrandt's home and found evidence "consistent with the markings found on the juvenile."

Hildebrandt and Franke were placed under arrest for aggravated child abuse. Both were subsequently charged with six counts of aggravated child abuse each. They each face up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 per count. Child Protective Services took custody of both women's children shortly after their arrests.

Here's Why It's Extra Weird

Ruby Franke launched her YouTube channel "8 Passengers" back in 2016. She was a so-called "mommy blogger," one of those parents who created and posted videos of her, her six children, and how her viewers could learn from her … unique approach to parenting. She and Jodi Hildebrandt grew the channel to over two million subscribers before deleting it in early 2023.

The videos on the "8 Passengers" channel alternated between discussions of parenting practices and chronicling mundane aspects of the Franke family life. There were videos of family dinners, drives with the kids, and snippets of everyday activities caught on video. And then there were the videos that Franke's viewers found a bit more troubling.

The incident that led to Franke's arrest was not the first sign that all was not well in the Franke household.

The first significant accusations of abuse came in 2020 when Franke posted a video of her then 15-year-old son Chad complaining that his mother had taken away his bedroom. He claimed he'd been forced to sleep on a beanbag chair for seven months as punishment for pulling pranks on his younger brother Russell. Franke justified her actions by saying Chad had chosen the beanbag over a pullout couch bed and a few less appealing options. Viewers felt she'd missed the point.

Subsequent videos painted an increasingly dire portrait of Franke and her parenting style, which could be described as "Guantanamo-esque." Franke was shown punishing her children by withholding meals, threatening to do the same, and proudly arguing that her 6-year-old daughter should go hungry because she forgot to bring her lunch to school. It became something of a theme in her work.

Franke's viewers created and signed a petition to have CPS investigate her household. CPS closed the case due to lack of evidence, much to the dismay of Franke's viewers, sisters, and eldest daughter. Neighbors claim to have called 911 on at least one occasion, in part due to pleading by Shari Franke, Ruby's oldest daughter. Nothing came from the calls. It seemed Franke would get away with treating her children like prisoners in their own home until the night Russell made his daring escape.

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