An Arizona mother is accused of abusing her seven adopted children and forcing them to perform for her mega-popular YouTube channel.
Machelle Hackney, 48, was arrested March 15 at her home in Maricopa, roughly 30 miles south of Phoenix, and charged with two counts of child molestation, seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment and five counts of child neglect.
Her two biological adult sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, were also arrested and face charges for failing to report abuse. The two men have appeared alongside their adopted siblings in “Fantastic Adventures,” a children-oriented YouTube series created by their mother in 2012. As of Wednesday morning, the channel had nearly 800,000 subscribers.
Police had received a tip about the abuse from Machelle Hackney’s biological daughter on March 13, prompting a welfare check on the home, according to arrest records. When they arrived on the scene, police say they found children who appeared to be malnourished and underweight.
One child was found in a closet wearing only a pull-up diaper, police said. Several children said they were extremely hungry and thirsty. Upon being offered water, a male child consumed three 16-ounce bottles of water within 20 minutes. A female child was offered a bag of chips, but she said she was fearful to eat it because she didn’t want her mother to smell chips on her breath.
The children told police and Arizona Department of Child Safety investigators that Machelle Hackney routinely pepper-sprayed them and locked them in closets for days at a time with no food, water or bathroom access.
Hackney forced them to take ice baths, and if they resisted, would force their heads underwater, one female child told police. A male child told police that his mother would beat him with hangers, belts and brushes and described instances in which she pinched the tip of his penis with her fingernails to the point it would bleed.
One female child said Hackney once pepper-sprayed her in the vagina, causing pain in that area for several days. Another child said the mother puts on a mask to protect herself before attacking them with pepper spray.
Several children said they were forced to stand in a corner with their arms raised above their heads for hours at a time and would be violently pinched if they moved at all.
DCS removed the children from the house on March 14. They remained in child protected custody as of Wednesday morning.
Machelle Hackney has denied abusing her children and said she disciplined them by grounding them, spanking them and making them stand in a corner. Ryan Hackney declined to speak to police during an interview, citing his Miranda rights.
Logan Hackney admitted to police that he knew the children were locked in closets at times and suffered abuse at the hands of his mother. He said Ryan would sometimes sneak the children food when they were locked up.
Police say all the children discussed having to participate in “Fantastic Adventures” and said they were physically abused if they did not remember their lines or did not act as Hackney had directed them. They said they were pulled out of school years ago so they could film more.
“Fantastic Adventures,” which features the children acting as superheroes and engaging in Nerf wars, has garnered over 240 million views since 2012. The page was still operational on Wednesday morning, though YouTube confirmed the channel had been demonetized.
“We take safety on YouTube very seriously,” a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
ABC 15, citing a source close to the investigation, reported that DCS had previously been called to Hackney’s home more than five times. DCS declined to comment on this case, citing confidentiality laws.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.