Utah parenting advice YouTuber Ruby Franke and her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, were arrested on six felony counts each of aggravated child abuse on Aug. 30.
Before their arrest, neighbors of Franke shared concerns with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services about her children’s welfare. And Hildebrandt, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, was previously disciplined by state regulators.
Franke and Hildebrandt’s beginnings
Ruby Franke launched a parenting advice YouTube channel in 2015 called “8 Passengers.” The channel garnered more than 2 million subscribers at its height, and was named for Franke, her husband Kevin and their six children.
But the channel drew controversy for Franke’s parenting decisions — in a 2020 video, one of Franke’s sons said he was forced to sleep on a beanbag for months as punishment for his prank on a sibling. In another, Franke said she refused to bring food to her then-6-year-old daughter at school, who had forgotten to bring it that day.
The account was deleted in 2022, the same year Franke and her husband separated, but Franke then began working on a new channel with Hildebrandt. The channel hosted videos from an online self-improvement program that Franke and Hildebrandt ran together called ConneXions, based out of Ivins.
It’s unclear how the two met, but Hildebrandt has been a licensed clinical mental health counselor since 2003, according to the Utah Division of Professional Licensing. She first acquired her associate clinical mental health counselor license in May of that year, and became a licensed clinical mental health counselor in July 2005, records show.
On Sept. 19, Hildebrandt voluntarily surrendered her counseling license in light of the felony child abuse charges filed against her. The move essentially limited her ability to practice in any way until her child abuse case is adjudicated and a disciplinary investigation is conducted.
The surrender was not considered a disciplinary action, and Hildebrandt was able to consult with an attorney before doing so, a stipulation and order regarding the surrender states. The division has not issued a finding of unlawful conduct.
Hildebrandt’s limited license is listed on her Division of Professional Licensing page, under “agency and disciplinary action.”
In 2012, Hildebrandt was put on probation for 18 months after she allegedly discussed a patient with his leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Brigham Young University without his permission. In those conversations, the patient said, Hildebrandt accused him of having serious problems, but never actually diagnosed him or spent enough time with him to do so.
But before she surrendered her license in September, Division of Professional Licensing records stated that Hildebrandt had received “no disciplinary actions.” That’s likely because, according to Utah law, state websites with public access to professionals’ disciplinary records must remove a record after 10 years have passed, unless otherwise required by federal law.
Professionals may also petition that a disciplinary record be removed once five years have passed since a final disciplinary order was issued, the statute says.
The Franke family
Ruby Franke and her husband Kevin first moved into their Springville home in January 2020, a neighbor told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The neighbor said that, initially, the Franke children interacted with the local church community and befriended other kids in the area. But over the years, they were eventually pulled out of school, and after Kevin Franke moved out of the home around August 2022, the neighbor observed Franke’s four youngest children were repeatedly left home alone, she said.
The Franke’s eldest child, Shari, is a student at BYU. Shari said in an April podcast said that she cut ties with her family in 2022, after her mother began working with Hildebrandt on ConneXions.
Kevin Franke’s attorney, Randy Kester, told The Tribune that Kevin moved out when he and Ruby separated. Kevin has since moved back into the family home and is currently seeking custody of the four children placed in state care upon Ruby Franke’s arrest, Kester said.
Ruby Franke remains in custody in Washington County, where she is being held without bail.
Police interactions with the Franke family
Authorities responded to Franke’s Springville home numerous times over the years, twice regarding the welfare of her children, according to Springville Police Department records.
On April 16, 2022, a case worker from the Division of Child and Family Services alerted authorities that two unsupervised children were running in a street near Franke’s home. The case worker had an officer drive out to the area, but he did not see any children in the street when he arrived, according to police documents.
The most recent response, on Sept. 18, 2022, was for a welfare check requested by Shari Franke, who told police that her sisters and brother had been left home alone for five days while their mother visited a friend in St. George.
She wanted officers to check on the children and make sure they had enough food “for the extended period,” police records state.
When officers arrived, the children would not answer the front door. Neighbors told responding officers that Ruby Franke often left the children home alone.
Police ultimately left the area after an hour or two, the neighbor who spoke with The Tribune said. The Tribune is not identifying the neighbor to protect her family’s privacy. However, she has been named in police records and The Tribune verified her identity.
In a report, officers wrote that “central intake” was contacted, but did not specify whether the Division of Child and Family Services was involved. The report also did not state the outcome of authorities’ response to Shari’s call.
After that response, the Franke home’s blinds were always closed, and what appeared to be paper was placed over the windows, the neighbor said.
The neighbor had separately spoken with DCFS twice in 2022 about Franke’s children, because she was concerned that they were being left alone for long periods of time and she did not know if they had access to “food and care.”
“I was looking for like ... what are the rules here?” the neighbor recalled. In that first call, an agency staffer she spoke with cited Utah’s landmark “free-range parenting” law, she said.
Utah in 2018 became the first state in the country to pass a “free-range parenting” law, which changed the state’s definition of child neglect.
The legislation added a section to state code explaining that a child “whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity” can engage in independent activities without it being considered child neglect — such as walking, running or biking to and from school, or being home alone.
The law did not specify what a “sufficient age” is, and only green-lit those unattended activities so long as kids were adequately fed, clothed and cared for. The neighbor said she worried about whether the children were being regularly fed, but she told DCFS that she never saw the children hurt.
The agency staffer told the neighbor that, unless the children left alone were hurt, DCFS could not necessarily intervene, the neighbor said.
A few days later though, the neighbor received a follow-up call from DCFS, after a different neighbor had similarly reported concern for Franke’s children. The neighbor again discussed her concerns but was left with the understanding that DCFS would not act, she said.
Springville police records also detail two reports of stalking and harassment that Ruby Franke filed in 2020. Franke believed the individuals watched her “8 Passengers” YouTube channel, the records state.
Court appearances and charges
Franke and Hildebrandt’s Aug. 30 arrest came after Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped Hildebrandt’s home in Ivins, which is outside of St. George. A neighbor called police because the boy appeared malnourished and had duct tape on his ankles and wrists.
Responding officers said they found Franke’s 10-year-old daughter also appearing malnourished inside Hildebrandt’s home. The two children were taken to a hospital for medical treatment, court documents state. That’s when they and two of Franke’s other children were placed into state custody.
Franke and Hildebrandt are accused of “causing or permitting serious injury” to Franke’s two children who were hospitalized in three different ways: through a combination of physical injuries or torture; through starvation or malnutrition that jeopardizes life; and by causing severe emotional harm, according to the Washington County attorney’s office.
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 one to 15 years in prison, and a fine up to $10,000.
The two women were scheduled to appear in court virtually from jail on Sept. 8. But before the hearing began, more than 1,000 people had piled into a planned livestream of the proceedings, overwhelming the system. Some attendees shouted profanities, argued or played music before they were removed.
The delayed hearing eventually started 45 minutes late, during which 5th District Judge Eric Gentry announced that Franke and Hildebrandt would remain held without bail until their next scheduled court appearance.
Search warrant records released weeks after their arrest revealed that Franke’s 12-year-old son “appeared to be emaciated” when officers responded on Aug. 30.
First responders also found open wounds under the duct tape on his wrists and ankles. The boy told authorities that “they” — seeming to reference his mother and Hildebrandt — had used cayenne pepper and honey to treat them, the search warrant records state.
Items confiscated from Hildebrandt’s home included two pairs of handcuffs; a bowl with red liquid and a metal spoon inside; tape; Saran wrap; at least three ropes; and absorbent dressings and bandages, among other things, the records state.
Two days before Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped, a video posted to YouTube depicted Franke in Hildebrandt’s home, according to court documents. 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 noted.
On Sept. 18, the women were scheduled to appear in court for a status review hearing. But that hearing was postponed until after Oct. 5. Attorneys had requested the delay, citing “additional time needed to review copious amounts of discovery,” a Utah state courts spokesperson advised.