'Fantastic Adventures' YouTube Mom Accused of Pepper-Spraying and Starving Her Kids Has Died
Machelle Hobson was arrested in March for allegedly beating and starving her kids
Machelle Hobson, the Arizona mother accused of child abuse who ran a popular YouTube channel that showcased her seven adopted children, has died at the age of 48, PEOPLE confirms.
Hobson — who was previously identified as Machelle Hackney in court documents — was arrested in March when one of the children in the residence disclosed the alleged abuse and initiated a welfare check on the others.
She died Tuesday morning, Adam Wolfe, spokesperson for Maricopa Police Department tells PEOPLE. CNN reports she died in a hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona. A cause of death has not been reported.
Hobson attracted millions of views on the YouTube channel “Fantastic Adventures,” which featured her children as superheroes and engaged in Nerf battles. But the family’s life off camera was tumultuous, authorities said. Hobson 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 earlier this year.
They were allegedly made to stand in a corner with their arms raised above their head “from 6 a.m. 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.
At the time of her arrest, the mother 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. Hobson’s sons, Ryan and Logan Hackney, were also arrested at the time, booked on seven counts of failing to report abuse of a minor.
The charges for both men were dropped a month after their arrests, reports ABC15.
“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, police allege.
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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.
Police were alerted to the alleged abuse on March 13 by Hobson’s daughter, 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.
According to ABC15, the Pinal County Attorney’s Office said it will wait for an official death certificate before dismissing any charges, however, it will continue to pursue Hobson’s assets, which includes more than $100,000 in cash.
Scottsdale police also told ABC15 that Hobson’s death was related to “health conditions.”
If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.