Warning: This article includes descriptions of the sexual and physical abuse of children.
The YouTube channel “Fantastic Adventures” has amassed 800,000 followers with its depiction of a family of children fighting super villains and outwitting evil babysitters—but in real life, these kids were reportedly being horrifically abused by their adoptive mother, who allegedly punished them by locking them in a closet for days, starving them, and dousing them with pepper spray.
“Fantastic Adventures” has nearly 800,000 subscribers and most of the videos have been viewed several million times. Collectively the channel has more than 250 million views. Each episode depicts the children acting out fantasy scenarios for ten to fifteen minutes.
According to court documents, the woman who runs the channel, Machelle Hackney, 48, and her two adult biological sons, were arrested at their Maricopa, Arizona, home on Friday.
Machelle was charged with two counts of child molestation, five counts of child neglect, five counts of unlawful imprisonment, and seven counts of child abuse, according to police reports. The two adult sons, Ryan and Logan, were charged for failing to report abuse.
Law enforcement took action after Machelle’s biological daughter Megan contacted authorities on March 13. Megan told authorities that Machelle had abused Megan’s adoptive siblings by spraying them with pepper spray and leaving them in a locked closet for days without food or water.
Law enforcement then conducted a welfare check at Machelle’s residence, where they found a child in a closet that had a lock but was it unlocked. Officers noticed the children looked pale and malnourished. The children reportedly stated they were hungry and thirsty.
As the officers spoke to the children, one child drank three 453.59g bottles of water in 20 minutes, according to a police report. Officers offered another child a bag of chips after she said she was hungry, but the child was reportedly afraid to eat it because she didn’t want Machelle to smell the chips on her breath.
After speaking with the children, officers obtained a search warrant and found two cans of pepper spray in Machelle’s room. The children were then interviewed and examined. According to a police report, one child said Machelle would spray her and her siblings with pepper spray and make them take ice baths, pushing their head under water if they would refuse.
Another child said he would “get pepper sprayed from head to toe” and reported that more than once Machelle had inflicted injury to his genitals with her fingernails, to the point of bleeding, according to the report. One child said that once during a pepper-spray incident, Machelle sprayed her genitals. She recalled the pain lasting for four to five days.
At least three children spoke of being locked in the closet, which doubled as a “green-screen room” for filming and adding special effects.
All the children reportedly said they had to participate in the YouTube videos and would be punished if they didn’t participate or forgot their lines.
One adult son, Logan, told police he was aware of the children being locked in a closet, forced to take ice baths, and being sprayed with pepper spray.
Machelle denied to police that she used pepper spray on the children or forced them to take ice baths. She claimed she would only spank and ground the children, and make them stand in a corner as punishment. She said the green-screen closet was not used for punishment.
“We take safety on YouTube very seriously,” a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement shared with Gizmodo. “We work closely with leading child safety organisations 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 monetisation, or, upon conclusion of an investigation, terminating channels.”
YouTube confirmed the “Fantastic Adventures” channel was demonetized as soon as it found out about the arrests. As of the time of publishing on Wednesday the channel is still up. The company’s spokesperson told Gizmodo it would terminate the “Fantastic Adventures” channel if Machelle enters a guilty plea or is convicted of the charges.