The sisters of Ruby Franke, mother and YouTube influencerfor six counts of aggravated child abuse, released videos detailing Franke’s separation from the family and their efforts to connect with his children.
Franke, known for her online parenting videos through the channel “8 Passengers”along with his business partner and neighbor, Jodi Hildebrandt. One of Franke’s children, a 12-year-old boy, climbed out of a window and asked another neighbor for food and water. The neighbor called police after seeing duct tape on the boy’s ankles and wrists, and when the boy was taken to an area hospital, he was found malnourished and suffering from “deep lacerations from being tied up with rope “, according to the court. documents.
Franke’s 10-year-old daughter was also found to be malnourished. Four more children were taken into custody by the Utah Division of Children and Family Services.
Hildebrandt often appeared in Franke’s videos and ran the company ConneXions Classroom, which she describes as a consulting service to help people improve their lives. The child who ran away was in Hildebrandt’s house at the time he went out the window. Both Franke and Hildebrandt have been charged with aggravated child abuse and are charged with a combination of multiple physical injuries or torture; life-threatening hunger or malnutrition; and causing serious emotional harm to two children, the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office in Utah said Wednesday. Theythey face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and are being held without bail.
Franke’s sisters, Julie Griffiths Deru and Bonnie Hoellein, said in videos uploaded to their YouTube channels that they were unaware of their sister’s actions. Both also said Franke had severed contact with their family about three years ago, which Hoellein said caused their mother to have a “heart attack” and “kidney failure.” Deru said that even before then, their extended family had expressed skepticism about ConneXions and Franke’s relationship with Hildebrandt.
“ConneXions was not a great asset and we all saw it,” Deru said. “We all felt weird about this lady Jody, no, we didn’t feel comfortable. We didn’t like her, we didn’t like the teachings that Ruby was bringing to family functions and we were so close to telling her ‘If you come to our family events anymore , we don’t want to hear what you were learning through ConneXions’… We never told him, but we thought so.”
Deru said that after Franke called her mother and “yelled at her” for 45 minutes, no one in the family heard from her again.
“She started lying right then and there, lying to everyone in her life, getting rid of all her friends and family, and I literally had no contact with her. She didn’t respond to any texts or emails over the course of of the time. I tried to contact her but I literally had no contact with her,” Deru said. “…I had no idea what was happening.”
Hollein said he had the same experience. However, the family was given a glimpse into Franke’s life and parents as her daughter Sherry became an adult and reconnected with her extended family, forming what Deru called a “really close, strong relationship.”
“It wasn’t until about a year ago that we were able to reconnect with Sherry,” Hollein said. “That’s when we were slowly learning more, and that’s where, behind the scenes, we did everything we could.”
On Aug. 31, soon after Franke’s arrest, Deru and another sister, Ellie Mecham, said in a statement on Instagram that they had “done everything we could to try to make sure the children were safe.” Hollein criticized those who say the extended family could have done more.
“We did everything we legally could, and for those who said they were going to come in and break down doors and do whatever it took – to end up in prison? Because I can’t do anything from prison,” Hollein said.
Hollein also criticized Franke’s husband, Kevin Franke, who has not been charged. In early September, an attorney for Kevin Franke told CBS News that he represented his client’s interests in keeping his children together and in his care and that he could not comment on Ruby Franke’s arrest. Hollein said Kevin Franke had no contact with extended family and that he had cut off even his own family.
“It was Kevin’s job to control things, and he didn’t,” Hollein said. “When I say that Kevin, Ruby, Jodi and ConneXions have destroyed our offline lives for the last three years, that’s exactly what they did, causing havoc in our family. We were talking in circles because nothing made sense. Nothing made sense in what we they were saying, in what they were doing. It was out of the ordinary. We couldn’t make sense of what they were doing and why.”
Both sisters concluded their videos with messages about how they will continue to “try to bring brightness into the lives of others” through their platforms and advocate for Franke’s children.
“We won’t let Ruby destroy another thing in our lives,” Deru said.
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