The "Fantastic Adventures" YouTube channel has racked up more than 250 million views with its adorable cast of seven adopted children, silly topics and charmingly low-fi visual effects.
Behind the scenes, though, the children told a different story. A welfare check last week found the home was a den of abuse in which their mother would withhold food and water for days at a time, pepper-spray them, force them to take ice baths and lock them in a barren closet, according to a statement of probable cause in Maricopa, Arizona.
"They stated they are disciplined in the manners above if they do not recall their lines or do not participate (in the videos) as they are directed to," the probable cause statement said.
"They further stated 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."
Police on Friday arrested their mother, Machelle Hobson, 48, on two counts of molestation of a child, seven counts of child abuse, five counts of child neglect and five counts of unlawful imprisonment. The Pinal County Sheriff's Office mistakenly had her last name as Hackney, but has since clarified her correct name.
Hobson's adult sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, also were arrested Friday. They face seven charges each. They are accused of failing to report the abuse of a minor.
The three are being held without bond. A spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office said they did not yet have an attorney.
In the police report, Hobson said the closet in her room is never used for punishment, and denied the accusations involving pepper spray and ice baths. She said the only forms of punishment she uses are having to stand in the corner, spankings and being grounded, the statement said.
Ryan Hackney invoked his Miranda rights, but Logan Hackney spoke to police and said the children were locked in the closet, pepper sprayed, and forced to take ice baths, the statement said.
What a welfare check found
Hobson's YouTube channel posts a new video about once a week and boasts nearly 800,000 subscribers. With titles like "The FLOOR IS LAVA!" and "Escape The Babysitter!" each of the 10- to 15-minute episodes features the family of cute children in lightsaber battles, turning into superheroes or attempting to steal cookies.
The statement of probable cause details a visit that welfare officers made to the home on March 13 after getting a tip from an adult daughter, who said one of the children said they were being abused.
During the welfare check, one child was found in an unlocked closet, which has a locking mechanism, wearing only a pull-up diaper, the statement said, adding that the other six children appeared to be malnourished. It said they had pale complexions, dark rings under their eyes, were underweight and they said they were thirsty and hungry.
According to the probable cause statement, one of the children drank three 16-ounce bottles of water within 20 minutes and said he had been pepper sprayed numerous times as punishment by his mother. Another child said she was extremely hungry and was given a bag of chips on the scene. However, she was afraid to eat the chips because she didn't want her mother to smell them on her breath, the statement said.
The Department of Child Safety then removed the seven children from their mother's custody.
A search of the home found two cans of pepper spray in the mother's room, and the closet in her bedroom had a deadbolt lock and a bare tile floor, the statement said.
In follow-up interviews, one child told of how they were kept locked in a closet for days at a time with no food, water or restroom. They also were pepper sprayed all over their face and body, spanked, forced to take ice baths, and forced to stand in the corner with their arms raised for several hours at a time, the statement said.
"I either get beat with a hanger or belt" "or a brush," one child said, "or get pepper sprayed from head to toe," according to the statement.
The child also said his mother would pinch the tip of his penis with her fingernails until it would bleed. Another child said she had been pepper sprayed on her vagina and recalled being in pain for four to five days, the statement said.
YouTube confirmed the channel was demonetized once the company was made aware of the arrest.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the last name of Machelle Hobson.