Ruby Franke, former '8 Passengers' family vlogger, sentenced on child abuse charges

Ruby Franke, a former family vlogger and "parenting advice" guru, has been sentenced to four prison terms of one to 15 years, according to AP, meaning she will face four to 60 years in prison on charges of child abuse.

The Utah mom was arrested back in August 2023 on multiple charges of child abuse after one of her kids escaped her oversight and ran to a neighbor asking for food and help. She pleaded guilty to four felony counts of second-degree aggravated child abuse as part of a plea agreement in December 2023. Her business partner, Jodi Hildenbrandt, also pled guilty to the charges.

Both women were handed down the same sentencing recommendation Tuesday in a Utah court by Fifth District Judge John Walton, AP reported. Franke and Hildenbrandt will serve one to 15 years in prison consecutively per count, meaning the pair could serve as little as four years or as many as 60 years.

State prosecutor Eric Clarke called the conditions the Franke and Hildebrandt children lived in "concentration camp-like," as the woman had convinced the kids they were evil and possessed and needed to be punished to repent, said AP.

In a public apology read to the court through tears, Franke, who has largely placed the blame for the abuse on Hildebrandt's alleged brainwashing, said in part, “I’ll never stop crying for hurting your tender souls,” referring to her children who were not present in the courtroom, reported AP. “My willingness to sacrifice all for you was masterfully manipulated into something very ugly. I took from you all that was soft and safe and good.”

The actual jail time served will now be up to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

Ruby Franke arrested and charged

This image from video shows Ruby Franke during a hearing Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in St. George, Utah.
This image from video shows Ruby Franke during a hearing Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, in St. George, Utah.

In late August 2023, Franke, known for her family vlogging channel featuring her husband and six kids, was taken into custody along with friend and business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, following the discovery of a "severely emaciated and malnourished" child.

Police were called to the home of Hildebrandt after one of Franke's children climbed out a window and went to a neighbor's house asking for food and water. Noticing duct tape wrapped around the child's wrists and ankles, the neighbor called authorities, who arrived to find one child who was "severely emaciated and malnourished, with open wounds" and another Franke child in the home who was also malnourished, according to court documents.

Jodi Hildebrandt attends a hearing Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, in St. George, Utah. Hildebrandt, a Utah mental health counselor who had been arrested alongside parenting advice blogger Ruby Franke, pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse for her role in physically and emotionally abusing Franke's children. (Sheldon Demke/St. George News via AP, Pool)

While serving a search warrant, police found evidence in the home "consistent with the markings found on the juvenile." The documents also said that Franke had been seen filming in the home days before, meaning she was aware of the condition of the children.

Franke was likewise accused of mistreating her own kids. In her plea agreement, she admitted to several abuses, reported AP, including kicking her son, holding his head under water and closing his mouth and nose with her hands. She also admitted to causing her son dehydration and blisters after forcing him to work in the summer sun for hours without ample food or water.

Who is Ruby Franke?

Ruby Franke is a Utah mother of six, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a formerly popular family vlog YouTuber. One of the stars of the "8 Passengers" YouTube channel that once raked in millions of views and followers, she became the subject of widespread criticism online for her parenting choices.

The pushback intensified when Franke co-founded parenting advice and support program "ConneXions"  with Hildebrandt, which has been called a "cult" by some online. Many found the parenting style promoted by the pair to be extreme and harsh. The frequent inclusion of what has been called homophobic, racist and transphobic comments did not help their popularity.

In one oft-referenced example, Franke told viewers that children do not deserve and should not receive unconditional love. Since her arrest in August her husband, Kevin Franke, filed for divorce.

What was '8 passengers'?

"8 Passengers" was a YouTube channel started in 2015 that documented the lives of mom and dad Ruby and Kevin Franke and their six children: Shari, Chad, Abby, Julie, Russell, and Eve. At its peak, it boasted 2.5 million subscribers and was known as one of the most famous - or infamous - family video channels.

The channel was removed from YouTube earlier this year.

While their content has attracted controversy for a number of years, the last three have been specifically damaging for the family, as viewers began circulating petitions and reporting what they saw as evidence of child abuse and neglect to local authorities.

Amongst some of the most infamous incidents were one in which Franke refused to bring food to school for her 6-year-old daughter, who had forgotten to pack her lunch, and another in which one of their sons said he was being forced to sleep on a beanbag after playing pranks on his brothers.

In another, she took Christmas away from one of her young children as punishment for being "selfish." In many instances, she could be seen threatening to withhold food or otherwise punishing her children in a way viewers found to be too severe. Franke's daughter, Shari Franke, has likewise spoken out multiple times about her family, saying she had "been trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this."

"8 Passengers" has been cited by activists as just one of many examples of family vlogging channels that have left children unprotected and easily exploitable. In response, Illinois passed a law meant specifically to introduce protections for minors appearing on their parents' monetized social media. Other states have since followed suit in passing or announcing intentions to pass similar laws.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ruby Franke sentencing: YouTuber faces prison time