An Arizona woman is being charged with child abuse for allegedly abusing her seven adopted children and forcing them to be part of a YouTube video series, which the platform has now shut down.
Machelle Hackney, 48, operated the “Fantastic Adventures” YouTube channel featuring her children going through superhero training and visiting fantasy lands, ABC 15 Arizona reports.
Hackney is being charged with seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment, and five counts of child neglect. The woman’s two biological sons, ages 26 and 28, are also being charged with seven counts each of failing to report abuse of a minor, In Maricopa reports.
The children were reportedly pepper sprayed and often left in a closet for days at a time without food, water, or a restroom. When police went to the family’s residence they found one child in an unlocked closet wearing only a pull-up, and the six other children at the residence appeared to be malnourished, officials said.
The children were being punished, sometimes by being sprayed from head to toe with pepper spray, if they didn’t recall their lines for their mother’s YouTube show or did not participate as directed, according to the report.
While police were questioning the children, one child was afraid to eat in case his mother smelled chips on his breath, and another said he was only allowed to eat because the police were there and had not eaten in two days, officials said. A search warrant for the residence uncovered two cans of pepper spray.
The seven children were removed from the woman’s custody. As of March 19, the woman’s YouTube channel had close to 800,000 subscribers and nearly 250 million views.
By Wednesday, the account had been deactivated.
“We work closely with leading child safety organizations and others in our industry to protect young people,” YouTube said in a statement to ABC News. “When we’re made aware of serious allegations of this nature we investigate and take action.”