SALT LAKE CITY — An Arizona mother who reportedly ran a YouTube channel starring her seven adopted children that garnered over 800,000 subscribers has been arrested on suspicion of repeatedly abusing her children when they did not perform well in the YouTube videos, according to The Arizona Republic.
Machelle Hackney and her two adult sons were arrested after the children reported being locked in a closet for days without access to food, water and restrooms, among other charges, the Republic reported.
Hackney has denied the charges of abuse. She was booked into Pinal County Jail on seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment and five counts of child neglect. She also faces two counts of molestation of a child, according to AZ Central. She was arraigned Tuesday and held without bond, NBC News reported.
Hackney’s biological sons Logan and Ryan Hackney were also arrested for failing to report Hackney’s abusive behavior, according to AZ Central, though the two say they had discussed reporting it.
The Department of Child Services has removed all seven children from Machelle Hackney's care, according to NBC News.
According to a statement of probable cause released last week, Hackney, 48, who runs the “Fantastic Adventures” channel, was the perpetrator of the abuse and was arrested Friday at her home in Maricopa, according to the Washington Post.
Authorities in Arizona said Hackney’s YouTube channel was the reason for her alleged mistreatment of her adopted children, according to the Washington Post. Hackney was said to punish the children when they "didn’t remember their lines or otherwise didn’t perform as directed," the Post reported.
The children told police that they had been pepper-sprayed from head to toe, forced to take ice baths, beaten with belts and hangers and required to stand with their arms raised above their heads from dawn to midnight, according to the Washington Post.
Officials were tipped off about the alleged abuse when Hackney’s biological daughter reached out to them, the Post reported.
A welfare check conducted March 13 at the home led to the arrest of Machelle Hackney and her sons after authorities reportedly found a child wearing only a pull-up in a closet with a lock in the master bedroom, according to AZ Central.
The other six children appeared underweight, malnourished and pale with dark circles under their eyes, according to AZ Central. One child told police she was very hungry and thirsty but was scared her mother would smell the chips officers offered her on her breath, according to AZ Central.
“Fantastic Adventures,” which was still on YouTube as of Wednesday morning, featured sketch videos of adventures, nerf battles, escape rooms and scripted stories starring Hackney’s children.
The channel's "episodes featured each of the seven adopted children acting out different scenarios, usually inside a house or backyard," according to the Arizona Republic
According to AZ Central, Hackney’s children said they were not attending school so that they could make the videos.
YouTube told the Arizona Republic that it demonetized the account and has said Hackney’s channel would be taken down if she were convicted or pled guilty.5 comments on this story
In a statement to the Washington Post, a YouTube spokesperson said, “We take safety on YouTube very seriously. … We work closely with leading child safety organizations and others in our industry to protect young people. When we’re made aware of serious allegations of this nature we take action, which may include suspending monetization, or, upon conclusion of an investigation, terminating channels.”
According to the Washington Post, Hackney could have grossedas much as $2.5 million from the YouTube channel.