Police arrest YouTube star for allegedly abusing 7 adoptive children
By MORGAN WINSOR
ABC News – A YouTube star is accused of physically abusing her seven adoptive children, who told authorities they were pepper sprayed, beaten and deprived of food and water if they did not participate in her videos.
Machelle Hackney, 48, whose YouTube channel “Fantastic Adventures” garnered over 799,000 subscribers and 250 million views since 2012, was arrested last Friday following a welfare check at her home in Maricopa, Arizona, about 35 miles south of downtown Phoenix, according to the complaint filed in Pinal County Superior Court.
A woman told the Maricopa Police Department on March 13 that her younger adoptive sister disclosed being abused by her mother, Hackney.
Officers then conducted a welfare check at Hackney’s residence, where they found seven children “who appeared to be malnourished, due to their pale completion, dark rings under their eyes, underweight, and they stated they were thirsty and hungry,” according to the probable cause statement.
All seven children were removed from Hackney’s custody.
Police interviewed two of the children and attempted to speak with a third but “she was visibly nervous, shaking, and it appeared she was too scared to answer any questions,” according to the probable cause statement. The four other children were not questioned.
One child told police Hackney locked her in a closet for days at a time without food or water and made her wear a pull-up diaper as she was not allowed to use the bathroom.
The child alleged her adoptive mother would spray her and her six siblings with pepper spray, spank them and force them to take ice baths. She allegedly would further punish them if they resisted, according to the complaint.
The child told police she was once pepper sprayed between her legs and was in pain for several days.
Another child told police, “I either get beat with a hanger or belt,” “or a brush,” “or get pepper sprayed from head to toe,” according to the probable cause statement. He also alleged Hackney would grab his “privates” and, on numerous occasions, pinched him with her fingernails until he bled.
Hackney denied the allegations, saying the only forms of punishment she uses is grounding, spanking and making the kids stand in the corner, according to the complaint.
All of the kids mentioned having to partake in their mother’s YouTube series, which featured the adopted children in different scenarios, according to the complaint. The kids told police they were punished if they forgot their lines or didn’t follow Hackney’s directions.
“This is one of the reasons their mom took them out of school so they can keep filming their series and they mentioned they have not been in school for years,” the probable cause statement reads.
The YouTube channel was still up on the video sharing site as of Wednesday morning. A YouTube spokesperson did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Hackney and her two adult sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, were taken into custody at the residence on March 15, according to the complaint.
Logan allegedly admitted to police that the children would be locked in the closet for long periods of time as punishment and that he had knowledge of the alleged pepper spray and ice baths. He also told police he observed physical injuries on the kids and heard them scream and cry, according to the complaint.
Logan claimed he had a discussion with his brother Ryan about reporting the child abuse, and the children told police Ryan would sneak them food when they were locked in the closet.
Hackney was arraigned Tuesday and booked into Pinal County Jail on two counts of child molestation, seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment and five counts of child neglect. A judge subsequently set a secured bond at $200,000. She has a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 26, according to inmate records.
Her adult sons Logan and Ryan were booked on seven counts each of failing to report child abuse.
It’s unclear whether Hackney or her sons have obtained lawyers to represent them. The Pinal County Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment Wednesday morning.
ABC News’ Karma Allen and Will Gretsky contributed to this report.