The sisters of Ruby Franke, the mom and YouTube influenceron six counts of aggravated child abuse, have released videos detailing Franke's separation from their family and their efforts to connect with her children.
Franke, who was known for her online parenting videos through the channel "8 Passengers"along with her business partner and neighbor, Jodi Hildebrandt. One of Franke's children, a 12-year-old boy, climbed out a window and asked another neighbor for food and water. The neighbor called the police after seeing duct tape on the boy's ankles and wrists, and when the child was taken to an area hospital, he was found to be malnourished and suffering from "deep lacerations from being tied up with rope," according to court documents.
Franke's 10-year-old daughter was also found to be malnourished. Four other children were taken into the custody of Utah's Division of Child and Family Services.
Hildebrandt often appeared in Franke's videos and operated the company ConneXions Classroom, which she describes as a consulting service to help people improve their lives. The child who escaped was in Hildebrandt's house at the time he climbed out the window. Both Franke and Hildebrandt have been charged with aggravated child abuse and are accused of a combination of multiple physical injuries or torture; starvation or malnutrition that jeopardizes life; and causing severe emotional harm to two children, Washington County Attorney's Office in Utah said Wednesday. Theyand 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 own YouTube channels that they were not aware of their sister's actions. Both also said that Franke had ceased 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 resource, and we all saw it," Deru said. "We all felt weird about this Jody lady, we didn't, we weren't comfortable with it. We didn't like it, we didn't like the teachings Ruby was bringing to the family functions and we were this close to telling her 'If you come to our family events anymore, we do not want to hear what you were learning through ConneXions' ... We never did say that to her, but we thought it."
Deru said that after Franke called their mom and "yelled at" her "for 45 minutes," none of the family heard from her.
"She started all of her lies back then, lying to everyone in her life, getting rid of all of her friends and family, and I literally had no contact with her. She wouldn't respond to any texts or emails over the time that I tried reaching out to her and I literally had no contact with her," Deru said. "... I had no idea what was happening."
Hollein said that she had the same experience. However, the family was offered a glimpse into Franke's life and parenting when 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 when we were able to reconnect with Sherry," said Hollein. "It was then that we were learning, slowly, bits and pieces of more, and that's where the part of behind the scenes, we did everything that we could."
On Aug. 31, just after Franke was arrested, Deru and another sister, Ellie Mecham, said in a statement on Instagram that they have "done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe." Hollein criticized those who have said the extended family could have done more.
"We did everything legally that we could, and for those that were saying that they'd go in and bust down doors and do whatever it took - to end up in jail? Because from jail, I can't do anything," Hollein said.
Hollein also criticized Franke's husband, Kevin Franke, who has not been charged. In early September, a lawyer for Kevin Franke told CBS News that he was representing 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 that Kevin Franke had no contact with the extended family, and that he had cut off his own family as well.
"It was Kevin's job to check in on things, and he did not," Hollein said. "When I say that Kevin and Ruby and Jodi and ConneXions have been destroying our lives offline for the last three years, that is exactly what they've been doing, causing turmoil within our family. We would talk in circles because nothing made sense. Nothing made sense of what they were saying, of what they were doing. It was off the wall. We couldn't make sense of what they were doing and why."
Both sisters ended their videos with messages about how they will continue to "try and bring brightness into other people's lives" through their platforms, and advocate for Franke's children.
"We are not going to let Ruby destroy another thing in our lives," Deru said.
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