A Phoenix, Arizona mother who ran a popular YouTube channel that featured each of her seven adopted children acting out different scenarios, was arrested Friday on suspicion of repeatedly abusing the children when they did not perform well, police said.
According to a police statement, the children reported being pepper sprayed, forced to take ice baths, and locked up in a closet for days without food, water, or access to a bathroom if they messed up while performing in the videos.
The woman, identified as Machelle Hackney, 49, was arrested Friday. Her two adult sons, Logan, 28, and Ryan Hackney, 26, were also taken into custody because they failed to report their mother's abusive behavior, police said.
Hackney operated a YouTube channel that featured made-up scenarios with the seven adopted children in a variety of roles. The channel, called "Fantastic Adventures," was filmed in the house or backyard, according to the probable cause statement.
While conducting a child abuse investigation, Maricopa police found that one of the seven children had been repeatedly abused by her mother. Officers said the child told them her mother would pepper spray her and lock her in a closet - also known as the "green screen room" - for days without food, water, or access to a bathroom.
The child's six other siblings were being abused in a similar manner, the child told officers.
Police followed up with a welfare check at Hackney's home, where officers found one child wearing only a pull-up in a closet with a lock on it inside the woman's master bedroom.
The other six children at the residence told officers that they were hungry and thirsty. One child consumed three 16-ounce bottles of water in under 20 minutes, the statement said. Another one of the children told officers that she was afraid Hackney might smell the chips officers gave them on her breath. Officials observed the child to be shaking and too scared to continue with the interview, the report said.
Authorities said the children told them that they were punished if they forgot lines or made mistakes while performing in their mother's YouTube videos. Hackney would allegedly spank the children, or sprayed their faces and genitalia with pepper spray. The children were also occasionally forced to stand in the corner with their arms raised above their heads for hours at a time, and forced take ice baths. If they resisted, Hackney would allegedly force their heads underwater, according to the police statement.
A search warrant was obtained by officers, and a subsequent search of the residence revealed two bottles of pepper spray in Hackney's bedroom. Hackey was arrested on Friday and booked into Pinal County jail on seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment, and five counts of child neglect, the police report said. The mother is also facing two counts of molestation of a child after one of the boys told police the woman grabbed and pinched his genitalia.
Some of the children said one of the adult sons, Ryan, would occasionally sneak them food into the closet, the police statement said. The closet, or "green-screen room was a room with a bare tile floor with no windows, blankets, clothing or toys.
Arizona's Department of Child Safety removed the seven children from Hackney's custody where they underwent medical examinations and forensic interviews.
The "Fantastic Adventures" channel had millions of views and more than 700,000 subscribers. As of Wednesday morning, the channel was still available and online. YouTube says the channel will be removed if Hackney is convicted of the charges or enters a guilty plea.
"We take safety on YouTube very seriously," according to a YouTube statement. "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."
Photo: Pinal County Sheriff's Office