Editor’s note: An update to this story can be found here.
Utah parenting advice YouTuber Ruby Franke and her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, will appear in court in St. George on Friday afternoon, a little more than a week after they were arrested on six felony counts each of aggravated child abuse.
Their late Aug. 30 arrest came after Franke’s 12-year-old son climbed out of a window at Hildebrandt’s Ivins home and asked neighbors for food and water, according to court documents. The neighbors saw the boy had duct tape on his ankles and wrists and called police.
Responding officers then found Franke’s 10-year-old daughter malnourished in Hildebrandt’s home, authorities said. The two children were taken to a hospital for medical treatment, court documents state.
Authorities determined that the boy and girl had been staying with Hildebrandt, though it’s unclear for how long. Court documents list Franke’s home address in Springville. But two days before the boy’s escape, a video posted to YouTube depicted Ruby Franke in Hildebrandt’s home.
Investigators considered the footage evidence that Franke had recently been in the Ivins home and knew about the apparent abuse, according to a probable cause statement. Inside Hildebrandt’s bathroom, investigators also found used gauze, which they considered evidence that Hildebrandt knew about the apparent abuse, the statement notes.
During the initial investigation, Hildebrandt told officers that the two children taken to a hospital should never be around any other kids, authorities said. That statement, along with the conclusion that Hildebrandt was aware of their abuse, prompted prosecutors to enhance the child abuse counts to second-degree felonies, charging documents state.
The 12-year-old and the 10-year-old — along with two of Franke’s other children — were placed into the custody of the Division of Children and Family Services, according to the probable cause statement.
Franke and Hildebrandt run a self-improvement program called ConneXions, which is based out of Ivins. The program aims to “help treat those lost and stranded in the darkness of distortion,” according to its website, through its curriculum of workbooks, DVDs and podcasts.
The program’s videos — featuring both Hildebrandt and Franke — were previously embedded on the ConneXions website, but no longer appear there, because the program’s YouTube account has since been terminated.
Franke previously hosted a parenting advice YouTube channel called “8 Passengers,” where she video-blogged the lives of her family — including her six children, herself and her husband Kevin. The channel was launched in 2015 and had nearly 2.3 million followers before it was deleted last year.
The family has been criticized online for parenting decisions shared on the channel, including Ruby Franke saying that she refused to take lunch to her kindergartener who forgot it at home. The oldest daughter has said in social media posts that she cut ties with her parents.
Kevin Franke is not facing any criminal charges in connection with the case, state court records indicate. A Utah lawyer who told The Associated Press he was representing the husband’s interests in keeping the children together and in his care did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Ruby Franke and Hildebrandt are accused of causing or permitting serious injury to the two hospitalized children in three different ways, according to a news release from the Washington County attorney’s office: through a combination of physical injuries or torture; through starvation or malnutrition that jeopardizes life; and by causing severe emotional harm.
Those three alleged forms of abuse, for each of the two children, amounted to the six aggravated child abuse counts that Ruby Franke and Hildebrandt each face. Each count carries a sentence of 1-15 years in prison, and a fine up to $10,000, according to the release.
According to the Utah Division of Professional Licensing, Hildebrandt is a licensed clinical mental health counselor based out of Ivins. She earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Utah in 2003. Her license was first issued in 2005 and is listed as active.
Melanie Hall, a spokesperson for DOPL, confirmed that the division is reviewing Hildebrandt’s license since news of her arrest last week.
“DOPL has been working with law enforcement in St. George and the jail to seek an appropriate outcome regarding her license,” Hall said. “Additionally, we have been working with the Attorney General’s office on whether to proceed with an emergency proceeding.”
In 2012, Hildebrandt was disciplined by state regulators for discussing a patient with leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU without their permission, The Salt Lake Tribune previously reported.
At the time, Hildebrandt was working as a counselor for “pornography addiction” when she provided therapy for a married couple beginning in 2008. According to documents, she repeatedly discussed the couple with Latter-day Saint clergy and the BYU Honor Code Office. She was placed on probation for 18 months.
Franke and Hildebrandt are scheduled to appear in court for their initial appearances Friday at 1:30 p.m. Both are being held without bail at the Washington County Jail.
— Tribune staff writer Jessica Miller contributed to this report.