Ariz. Mom Who Put Kids in YouTube Videos Seen by Millions Allegedly Pepper-Sprayed, Starved Them

Machelle Hackney is facing multiple charges of abuse and unlawful imprisonment of her seven adopted children

Child Abuse Allegations Woman Arrested - 19 Mar 2019
Photo: AP/REX/Shutterstock

On-camera, the performing children of Machelle Hackney, seven of whom were adopted, attracted millions of views to the mom’s YouTube channel, “Fantastic Adventures.”

Off-camera, their lives were a total terror, police allege.

Hackney allegedly beat and starved her kids, kept them for days in a locked closet without bathroom breaks, forced them into ice baths and held their heads under water if they resisted, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by PEOPLE.

They were allegedly made to stand in a corner with their arms raised above their head “from 6 am till 12 at night,” said one. Punishments — including pepper spray and pinches to their genitals — were allegedly doled out as discipline “if they do not recall their lines or do not participate as they are directed to” on camera, the affidavit states.

Performing in the videos “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 affidavit alleges.

On Friday, Hackney, 48, and her two adult sons, Ryan and Logan, were arrested at the family’s Maricopa home, after authorities say one of the children in the residence disclosed the alleged abuse and initiated a welfare check on the others.

Logan Hackney and Ryan HackneyCredit: Pinal County Sheriffs Office
Logan Hackney, at left, and Ryan Hackney. Pinal County Sheriffs Office

The ages of the children were not released.

Machelle Hackney was booked into the Pinal County jail on seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment, five counts of child neglect and two counts of child molestation. She remains jailed on a $200,000 bond, jail records show.

Ryan and Logan Hackney each were booked on seven counts of failing to report abuse of a minor. Neither was held on a bond and both have since been released, PEOPLE confirms.

“Logan admitted the children were locked in the closet for long periods as punishment,” the affidavit alleges. “He had knowledge of Machelle forcing them to take ice baths, and kids being pepper sprayed. Logan stated he observed visible physical injuries on the kids and recalls hearing them screaming and crying. The children stated Ryan would sneak them food when they were locked in the green room.”

The two sons had discussed reporting the alleged abuse but did not, say police.

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“Machelle stated the green closet in her bedroom is never used for punishment, denied the pepper spray, denied the ice baths and stated the only forms of punishment she uses is having to stand in the corner, getting spankings and being grounded,” the affidavit states.

Attorneys for those charged were not immediately identified.

‘Fantastic Adventures’ YouTube Channel

Machelle’s “Fantastic Adventures” YouTube channel has more than 700,800 followers and more than 242 million views and “stars the adopted children in different scenarios,” say police.

Police were alerted to the alleged abuse on March 13 by Machelle Hackney’s 19-year-old daughter, Megan, who told officers “her adoptive sister … disclosed being abused at her home .. by her mother, Machelle,” according to the affidavit. “The abuse was described as being pepper sprayed, left in a locked closet for days at a time with no food, water or restroom, and [she] stated her 6 other siblings [were] being punished in the same manner.”

On a welfare check officers then located a child in an unlocked closet wearing only a pull-up, and found the six others “who appeared to be malnourished, due to their pale complexion, dark rings under their eyes, underweight, and they stated they were hungry and thirst.”

One of those children, while speaking with officers, was given and consumed three 16-ounce bottles of water within 20 minutes. Another, given a bag of chips after saying she was hungry, told officers “she was fearful to eat it, as she did not want her mother Machelle to smell chips on her breath.”

With police present, Machelle had her two adult sons prepare food for the other children, with one of those children saying they were only being allowed to eat “because police were there, as she has not been allowed to eat for two days,” according to the affidavit.

Police using a search warrant found two cans of pepper spray in the home, and also entered the closet in Machelle’s master bedroom which the children claimed they were “left in for days,” finding it had “a deadbolt lock and a bare tile floor, with no windows, furniture, blankets, clothing (or) toys.”

In subsequent interviews, one of the children said he “was in the green screen room most of his life.” Another said, “I either get hit with a hanger or belt,” “or a brush,” “or get pepper sprayed from head to toe” when being disciplined.

“Prior to her mom pepper spraying them,” one of the children told police, “she typically puts on a mask first to protect herself,” according to the affidavit.

The Department of Children’s Services has removed the seven alleged victims from the home.

YouTube deleted the money-raising function of the subscription “Amazing Adventures” channel after the arrests, reports, but said it would await the outcome of the case before taking further steps.

Machelle Hackney is due back in court March 26.

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