Ruby Franke case: Over 1,000 tune in to YouTuber’s child abuse hearing, overwhelming court livestream

Franke and Hildebrandt will remain in custody at the Washington County Jail without bail, a judge ruled Friday.

Utah parenting advice YouTuber Ruby Franke and her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, appeared in court virtually from Washington County jail Friday after they were arrested in Ivins last week on six felony counts each of aggravated child abuse.

Their initial appearance was set to start at 1:30 p.m., but before then, more than 1,000 people had already piled into a planned livestream of the proceedings to listen in, overwhelming the system and delaying the start of the St. George hearing. Some of the many attendees shouted profanities, argued or played music before they were removed.

“We understand that everyone is having trouble accessing the Franke/Hildebrandt hearing,” a Utah state courts spokesperson said in a statement at 1:29 p.m. At the time, 1,100 people were in the livestream, she said, and more were trying to join. “Keep trying,” the spokesperson advised media organizations.

More than 30 minutes later, the hearing still had not begun. It ultimately began sometime around 2:15 p.m.

The eventual hearing was brief, with 5th District Judge Eric Gentry announcing that Franke and Hildebrandt would remain held without bail until their next scheduled court appearance, currently slated for early Sept. 21 with 5th District Judge John Walton.

Hildebrandt’s defense attorney noted that they plan to file a motion in the meantime for an expedited detention hearing.

(Utah Fifth District Court) Jodi Hildebrandt makes an appearance in 5th District Court in St. George, Friday, Sept. 8., 2023. Hildebrandt and Ruby Franke each face six felony counts of aggravated child abuse.

Franke and Hildebrant’s arrest on Aug. 30 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.

The boy and girl — along with two of Franke’s other children — were placed into the custody of the Division of Children and Family Services, according to a probable cause statement.

On Thursday, Franke appeared virtually from jail for a custody hearing in Provo concerning the four children in state custody, The Daily Mail reported. Franke cried during the hearing, and accused two of her children of being abusive to other children, according to The Daily Mail. Her husband Kevin Franke was in attendance with an attorney. A subsequent custody hearing was scheduled for Sept. 18, a state courts spokesperson confirmed.

Ruby Franke and Hildebrandt are accused in charging documents 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.

Before their arrest, Franke and Hildebrandt ran 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. The channel was launched in 2015 and had nearly 2.3 million followers before it was deleted last year. Ruby Franke’s oldest daughter has said in social media posts that she cut ties with her parents.

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 after 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.