An Arizona woman's seven adopted children were a hit performing on her YouTube channel “Fantastic Adventures” -- which had nearly 800,000 followers -- but behind the camera, the 48-year-old woman beat the kids, doused them with pepper spray and locked them in a closet for days without food, water or bathroom access, according to court documents.
Machelle Hackney was arrested last Friday at her home in Maricopa — where the alleged abuse of her adopted children occurred — on charges of child molestation, child abuse, unlawful punishment and child neglect. Hackney’s two sons, Logan and Ryan Hackney, were also arrested for failing to report the abuse of a minor, FOX10 Phoenix reported.
Authorities began investigating the Hackneys on March 13 when they received a report regarding child abuse in the household. A person contacted police saying her adoptive sister was being pepper sprayed, locked in the closet — dubbed the green screen room — for days without food, water or access to a bathroom, court documents stated. The individual said her six other siblings were also allegedly being abused in the same way.
Police conducted a welfare check at Hackney’s home and found a child wearing only a pull-up diaper inside a closet with a locking mechanism. The six other children in the house appeared to be malnourished.
The children, who were removed from the home, later detailed to investigators the alleged torture they endured in the house, including being drenched in pepper spray from head-to-toe, spanked and forced to take ice baths, FOX10 reported. Hackney would allegedly dunk the children’s head underwater when they disobeyed, and forced them to stand in the corner with their arms raised above their head for several hours.
“I either get beat with a hanger or belt, or a brush, or get pepper-sprayed from head to toe,” one of the children told police, according to court documents.
Two of the children told authorities Hackney sometimes grabbed and injured their private parts. One girl recalled being in pain for four to five days, documents stated.
Authorities said the adopted children haven’t been in school for years because Hackney needed them for her popular YouTube videos, which had more than 250 million views by Wednesday. The children said Hackney would discipline them if they didn’t remember their lines or perform the way she wanted.
On the “Fantastic Adventures” YouTube channel that began in 2012, the children were painted in a vastly different light while acting out elaborate 10-to 15-minute skits. They’re spotted sometimes eating, talking about homework, playing games in a fantasy world concocted by Hackney. The show’s Instagram page also showed pictures of the children smiling, and in a February post, spoke about a girl’s journey from foster care to Hackney’s house.
Logan Hackney admitted his mother had abused the children and locked them in the closet for a long period of time. Hackney had denied the abuse allegations and said she only punished the children by making them stand in corners, spanking and grounding them, FOX10 reported.
YouTube said in a statement to the Arizona Republic that Hackney’s channel was demonetized following her arrest. The channel will be taken down if she is convicted or pleads guilty to the felony charges.
"We take safety on YouTube very seriously," the statement read. "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 take action, which may include suspending monetization, or, upon conclusion of an investigation, terminating channels."