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Unpacking the Child Abuse Case Against YouTube Influencer Ruby Franke

Originally appeared on E! Online

The 8 Passengers YouTube channel started by Ruby Franke is no more, though months-old videos calling out her behavior remain.

And after Ruby was arrested Aug. 30 and subsequently charged with six counts of felony child abuse, as was her business partner Jodi Hildebrandt, so came the pile-on of accusations that what was wrong behind closed doors was unfolding in plain sight for years.

When Ruby and husband Kevin Franke first moved into their Springville, Utah, home with their six children, “they were fine at first,” a neighbor who requested anonymity told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I mean, as normal as you can be if you’re famous YouTubers.”

But in August of 2022, the neighbor said, Kevin had moved out and she started to notice the four youngest kids seemingly being left alone “for days to weeks at a time.” So, the neighbor continued, she contacted the Utah Division of Child and Family Services and spoke to them at least twice. She had never seen the kids harmed, she explained to the Tribune (which noted there was documentation of her interaction with the agency), but was worried they were being neglected.

The four minor children were placed in the care of DCFS after Ruby’s August arrest, according to the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department.

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As for Ruby and Jodi, they both pleaded guilty to four felony counts of second-degree aggravated child abuse in December and were sentenced to four consecutive one- to 15-year sentences Feb. 20. Attorneys for Ruby and Jodi have not yet returned E! News’ requests for comment on the abuse charges or other allegations of harmful conduct.

According to NBC News, Ruby’s exact time behind bars will be determined by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, but she appeared ready to accept her punishment. “I am humbled and willing to serve a prison sentence,” Franke told Judge John Walton during her court appearance. “I understand this is going to take time.”

How Ruby, 42, and Jodi, 54, ended up behind bars has captivated the usual let’s-try-this-case-right-now crowd on social media, and countless hours of videos and podcasts have already been devoted to the pair.

Who is Ruby Franke?

With the built-in hook of having six adorable kids, Ruby and Kevin added their Utah family to the vast mix of day-in-the-life domestic content on YouTube when they started 8 Passengers in early 2015.

They relayed that they were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and introduced the world to Shari, Chad, Abby, Julie, Russell and Eve (who are now between the ages of 20 and 10).

Before the Frankes’ channel was taken down last year, it had amassed more than 2.3 million subscribers.

Instagram(moms_of_truth)

According to Kevin’s attorney, the kids’ father—who has not been charged with any offense—is absolutely shocked by the allegations against his estranged wife. He and Ruby had been living apart for 13 months before her arrest, an arrangement that was not his choice, lawyer Randy Kester explained to TODAY.com.

“He wanted to work through concerns as a family,” Kester said. “There was never any formal, written decree of separate maintenance or separation agreement. The separation was under terms proscribed by Ruby and Jodi Hildebrandt.”

On Law & Crime’s Sidebar podcast, Kestler said that Kevin was a “good dad” who had never abused his kids in any way, nor had he ever been accused of abuse.

“He’s getting raked over the coals by all of this,” the lawyer said, “when in fact, he himself was to some degree a victim of these psychological and mental manipulations that were perpetrated against him and his family by Jodi.”

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Who is Jodi Hildebrandt?

Jodi is the founder of ConneXions, which according to her website offers training “built on principles of Honesty, Responsibility, and Humility” to help people empower themselves and repair their relationships with others. She has also hosted a podcast of the same name since November 2022.

In her ConneXions Classroom bio, Jodi describes her counseling style as “compassionate yet direct and clear.”

Ruby’s Instagram account Moms of Truth—which has 329,000 followers—was devoted to snaps of her family but since June 28, 2022, the page has been devoted to ConneXions content, including videos of she and Jodi together talking about various tenets of the program.

Jodi Hildebrandt, Ruby Franke

Instagram

That same month, Ruby segued from 8 Passengers to Jodi’s ConneXions channel, which has also been taken down. (YouTube confirmed to NBC News it had removed both channels “in accordance with our creator responsibility guidelines.”)

Jodi has agreed to a freeze of her mental health counseling license, the Utah Division of Professional Licensing telling NBC affiliate KSLTV on Sept. 19, “Since her arrest, DOPL, along with the Utah Attorney General’s Office, has been working with Hildebrandt’s lawyer to secure the voluntary surrender of her professional license with limitations, ensuring that she cannot practice if released” from jail.

The agreement, obtained by People, making the freeze official noted that Jodi “does not herein admit any wrongdoing.”

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Why was Ruby Franke already under scrutiny before her arrest?

In a June 2020 video, Ruby and Kevin acknowledged the backlash after then-15-year-old Chad shared on 8 Passengers that he’d had his bedroom taken away for seven months and was sleeping on a beanbag, punishment for pranking his little brother.

When he got his room back, Ruby told Insider at the time, “He had done a bedroom reveal where he was excited that he put LED lights up in his bedroom and he was hanging puzzles on his wall that he had put together and glued. It never occurred to him that it would turn on us.”

A Change.org petition posted by a concerned critic demanded authorities get involved, and Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services did respond. Social workers were at their house for about two hours and talked to each of their kids, Kevin told Insider.

“When they walked in unannounced,” Kevin said, “Eve and Ruby were baking bread together and doing a puzzle. Hardly the evidence of an abusive home.” According to Insider, a letter from DCFS confirmed the investigation was closed without further action because claims of abuse were unsupported.

Ruby Franke

Instagram/@moms_of_truth

“My kids are so strong,” Ruby told the outlet. “They are amazing. And they have come together and have even prayed for our enemies. These people who are hating on us, they pray that they will feel the love that they are searching for.”

Other clips that have been resurfaced since Ruby’s arrest highlight the approach to discipline that had fellow YouTubers devoting their platforms to analyzing the Frankes.

In one clip Ruby warned her younger son that he was “going to lose the privilege to eat dinner” for roughhousing with his big brother. In another much-circulated video, she talked about her decision to not bring her then-6-year-old daughter her school lunch even though the child’s teacher was “‘uncomfortable with her being hungry and not having a lunch,” because it had been her daughter’s responsibility to pack the food and bring it with her.

Ruby said in another excerpted clip, “My kids are not welcome to come live with me after they’re 18. I am very straightforward about that.”

And there is an 8 Passengers video, now posted to TikTok, in which Ruby said that her two youngest children had been “displaying long patterns of selfishness” and she and Kevin would be giving “the gift of truth to them this year for Christmas.” The kids were told they’d be receiving “boundaries” and “repentance” for the holidays, Ruby said, instead of a visit from Santa.

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Shari Franke, Ruby and Kevin’s now-20-year-old eldest child, called police on Sept. 18, 2022, to request a welfare check on her younger siblings, according to police records obtained by KSLTV.

Neighbors who gathered outside when police came to the house that day told officers, per their report, that they “were very concerned about the children and them being left at home alone.” Police stated in the report that they could see kids inside but no one answered the door, after which they returned to the house on Sept. 22, 23, 26 and Oct. 3 to assist DCSF.

DCFS confirmed its involvement in the Franke case earlier this month, but wouldn’t comment on past visits.

“In order to protect the integrity of the necessary working relationships with those we serve, and to respect the privacy of children and families,” the agency said in a statement, “DCFS will continue its practice and refrain from sharing specific information on a case, past or present.”

In a Sept. 19 statement, per the Salt Lake Tribune, DCFS said that every referral the agency gets goes through a screening process and every referral was “handled individually to support the unique facts to each case based on information provided.”

While an investigation into “non-supervision” fell under the category of neglect, the agency explained, an investigation was only opened “when the information reported includes a description of a specific occurrence or allegation that a child is subjected to accidental harm, or an unreasonable risk of accidental harm.”

Ruby Franke

Instagram

What led to Ruby Franke’s arrest and charges of child abuse?

On Aug. 30, Ruby’s 12-year-old son crawled out of a window of Jodi’s home and ran to a neighbor’s house, where he asked for food and water, according to details in a probable cause affidavit obtained by NBC News and a press release from the Santa Clara-Ivins Public Safety Department.

The SCIPSD said its dispatch center received a call at around 10:50 a.m. about a juvenile who “appeared to be emaciated and malnourished, with open wounds and duct tape around the extremities.” His condition was “so severe,” he was transported to an area hospital.

At the house the child ran from, police found his 10-year-old sister in a similar state of malnourishment and she too was taken to the hospital, according to the affidavit. The SCIPSD said that a search warrant executed at the house turned up evidence “consistent with the markings found” on the boy.

Ruby and Jodi were subsequently arrested at the latter’s home in Ivins, Utah, and have been in custody ever since. They were charged Sept. 5 with six counts apiece of felony child abuse, each count carrying a one-to-15-year prison sentence and a maximum $10,000 fine.

“There are two juvenile victims in these cases,” the Washington County Attorney’s Office explained in an email to NBC News, “and each defendant is accused of causing or permitting serious physical injury to the victims in three different ways: (1) a combination of multiple physical injuries or torture, (2) starvation or malnutrition that jeopardizes life, and (3) causing severe emotional harm.”

According to KSLTV, police wrote in a booking affidavit that, upon being arrested, “Ms. Hildebrandt requested a lawyer and did not speak with us. Once given her charges, Ms. Hildebrandt informed me [that the children] should never be allowed around any other kids.”

What have Ruby Franke’s family members had to say about the child abuse charges?

“Finally,” Shari Franke posted to Instagram Story after her mother’s arrest. In another post she added, “Today has been a big day. Me and my family are so glad justice is being served. We’ve been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this, and so glad they finally decided to step up. Kids are safe, but there’s a long road ahead. Please keep them in your prayers and also respect their privacy.”

Shari, who has 471,000 subscribers to her own YouTube channel, is a junior at Brigham Young University studying political science and statistics, according to her Instagram bio.

In a statement posted to their Instagram accounts Aug. 31, Ruby’s sisters Bonnie Hoellein, Julie Deru and Ellie Mecham—all of whom have followings as family-themed influencers—said they’d “kept quiet” about the mother of six “for the sake of her children.”

Behind the scenes, they continued, “we have done everything to try and make sure the kids were safe…Ruby was arrested which needed to happen. Jodi was arrested which needed to happen. The kids are now safe, which is the number one priority.”

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In a Sept. 13 YouTube video, Bonnie said Ruby and Kevin “cut our family off” years ago, so she had no idea of what was allegedly going on.

Julie said in a video she posted the same day that she “literally had no contact” with Ruby, adding, “She wouldn’t respond to any texts or emails.”

Bonnie continued, “The more I learn, my feelings are turning more to anger. I am mad. I am mad at what has happened. I am beyond disgusted and I feel like it makes me tremble. It makes me tremble because this is unheard of. It is truly unbelievable.” She also said in her video that it was Kevin’s “job to check in on things and he did not.”

Asked about Bonnie’s allegation that the father of six had failed to protect his kids, Kevin’s attorney told TODAY.com that his client was “more interested in reaching out to his children, family, and friends to heal the past trauma and events” than debating his sister-in-law.

“He is focused on doing what is best for his kids at this point, even if that means undergoing some introspection,” the lawyer continued. “None of that process, however, is going to be creating more distance between him and his family, including his extended family. He wishes Bonnie and her family well as we all travel down this path of healing.”

(This story was originally published on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, at 5 a.m. PT.)




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