(MARICOPA, Ariz.) — 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 didn’t participate in her videos.
Machelle Hobson, 48, whose YouTube channel “Fantastic Adventures” has garnered almost 800,000 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 19-year-old woman told the Maricopa Police Department on March 13 that her younger adoptive stepsister disclosed being abused by her mother, Hobson.
Officers then conducted a welfare check at Hobson’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 Hobson’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 Hobson locked her in a closet for days at a time without food or water and made her wear a pull-up diaper, not allowing her 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 Hobson would grab his “privates” and, on numerous occasions, pinched him with her fingernails until he bled.
Hobson denied the allegations, saying the only forms of punishment she uses are 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 Hobson’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 but later appeared to be taken down. YouTube will terminate accounts upon discovery of repeated violations of its community guidelines.
“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 investigate and take action,” a YouTube spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Thursday morning. “We immediately suspended monetization when notified of the arrest. In cases where there are Community Guidelines violations, we may take additional actions, including terminating the channel.”
The Pinal County Attorney’s Office called the allegations “highly disturbing and alarming.”
“Children are our community’s most precious resource, and this office is committed to holding those individuals who choose to harm them fully accountable for their actions,” Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Hobson and her two adult sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, were taken into custody by local law enforcement at their residence on March 15, according to the complaint.
Logan Hackney 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 Hackney claimed he had a discussion with his brother about reporting the child abuse, and the children told police Ryan Hackney would sneak them food when they were locked in the closet.
Hobson and her two sons had their initial court appearance on Saturday. Hobson’s bond was set at $200,000 secured and she remains in custody, according to the Pinal County Attorney’s Office. She was booked on two counts of child molestation, seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment and five counts of child neglect.
Hobson has a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 26. The attorney appointed to Hobson did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment Thursday morning.
Hobson’s last name was listed as “Hackney” in the initial complaint by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office, which later changed it.
Logan and Ryan Hackney, Hobson’s biological children, were booked into Pinal County Jail on seven counts each of failing to report child abuse. They were released on their own recognizance on Tuesday and are due back in court April 8.
Logan and Ryan Hackney have hired a private attorney, who did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment Thursday morning.
Zeb and Tawny Schnorr, a couple in Scottsdale, Arizona, run their own YouTube channel starring their 10-year-old and 6-year-old sons called “Extreme Toys TV,” which has amassed over 4.1 million subscribers and over 2.1 million views since 2015.
The Schnorrs told ABC News they have never met Hobson but her two adult sons contacted them about a year ago for help with filming and editing content. And just a few weeks ago, Logan and Ryan Hackney brought over Hobson’s seven adoptive children to the couple’s house to film a collaboration.
The Schnorrs told ABC News they didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary with the seven children, who appeared to be well-behaved and playing normally with their two kids. The parents said they were shocked to learn of the allegations.
“I just wish that there was something I would’ve seen,” Tawny Schnorr told ABC News in an interview Wednesday. “I was one-on-one with these kids, and there was no sign they were in danger.”
“I had those kids in my house, twice they were here, and I just feel like it was my responsibility as a mom to help them and I feel like I could’ve saved them,” she added, in between tears. “The things those kids had gone through and were going through, my heart breaks for them because nobody deserves that.”
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