Utah Mother Behind "8 Passengers" YouTube Channel Pleads Guilty to Child Abuse Charges

Dec 19, 2023, 11:00 AM

Ruby Franke, a Utah mother of six who gained fame through her YouTube channel "8 Passengers," pleaded guilty on Monday to four felony counts of second-degree aggravated child abuse, admitting to the abuse and starvation of two of her children. The plea was entered in a courtroom where Franke appeared wearing gray and white jail clothing, expressing her deepest regret for her actions.

The charges stemmed from a disturbing incident that unfolded earlier this year when Franke's 12-year-old son escaped from a residence in the southern Utah city of Ivins, where he had been held captive. Covered in wounds and with duct tape on his wrists and ankles, the boy approached a neighbor and asked for help, prompting a 911 call.

The caller stated, "I think he's been ... he's been detained," while describing the emaciated and wounded state of the child. Authorities swiftly responded to the call and discovered Franke's 10-year-old daughter at the same location. Both children were rushed to the hospital, with the younger ones eventually taken into state custody.

Franke's husband, Kevin Franke, has filed for divorce following the incident. The family's YouTube channel, "8 Passengers," was known for its parenting advice but came under scrutiny for controversial decisions, including a video showing the couple banning their oldest son from his bedroom for seven months and refusing to provide lunch for a kindergartener who forgot it at home.

Franke also faced criticism for threatening to cut the head off a young girl's stuffed toy as a punishment. In one video, she revealed that her two youngest children wouldn't receive gifts from Santa Claus one year due to their behavior.

The shocking case revealed that Franke had been influenced by a relationship counselor, Jodi Hildebrandt, who manipulated her sense of morality, leading to the abuse. Franke's attorney, LaMar Winward, explained, "Ruby Franke is a devoted mother and is also a woman committed to constant improvement." He added, "Hildebrandt systematically isolated Ruby Franke from her extended family, older children, and her husband, Kevin Franke."

Hildebrandt, who is facing allegations in connection with the case, has agreed not to see patients until her situation is addressed by state licensing officials. Her next court hearing is scheduled for December 27. Douglas Terry, her attorney, has not commented on the allegations made by Franke's attorney.

Judge John J. Walton accepted Ruby Franke's plea agreement, leaving her sentencing up to his discretion, which may include prison time. The sentencing is set for February 20. Both Franke and Hildebrandt remain in jail since their arrests.

While incarcerated, Ruby Franke has engaged in introspection, intending to take responsibility for her actions, as stated in a statement by her attorney. The disturbing incident has raised questions about the responsibility of online influencers and the impact their content may have on their personal lives and the lives of their followers.

The "8 Passengers" YouTube channel, which had been active since 2015, came to an abrupt end after seven years, marking a tragic turn in the life of a family once known for sharing their parenting journey online.
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