Machelle Hobson, an Arizona woman accused of abusing the seven adopted children who acted in her popular YouTube series, had nine previous reports from the Arizona Department of Child Safety, according to court records.
The details of those reports, including when they were made, are unknown, as they are not public. Nor it is known how much DCS, a department with a long and troubled history, knew about Hobson prior to her arrest this month, because DCS is not answering questions. Asked for details and for the reports, Darren DaRonco, a spokesperson for DCS, referred Phoenix New Times to a general statement.
Typically, a report is generated with a call to the DCS hotline. Last year, the hotline received more than 49,000 calls of child abuse or neglect, according to a department report. Of those, 212 alleged the death or near-death of a child due to abuse or neglect.
Of the 150 cases involving a child's death, more than half of them were tied to at least one previous report.
Hobson, whom court records initially named as Machelle Hackney, was arrested on March 15 after police visited her home in the city of Maricopa.
She was booked into Pinal County Jail on suspicion of two counts of child molestation, seven counts of child abuse, five counts of unlawful imprisonment, and seven counts of child neglect. Her bond was set at $200,000, and she remains in jail, records show.
The court found Hobson to be indigent and appointed Richard Scherb as her public defender. Reached via email, Scherb declined an interview after stating, "The State's case is without merit."
In its statement, DCS confirmed on Wednesday that it had removed the children from the home on March 14. Citing confidentiality laws, the statement said DCS could not provide specifics about the Hobson case. As Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts wrote this week about DCS' response to the case, "Mum's the word over at the Department of Child Services."
The DCS statement said that generally, the Department required all potential foster homes to go through "a thorough vetting process" that included background checks and reference checks before being licensed. Licensing agencies visit foster homes quarterly, and DCS visits on a monthly basis, it added.
Once a child is formally adopted, DCS ceases to be involved with the family, the statement said.
"Despite all of these safeguards, people are sometimes able to avoid detection, especially if a person has no prior criminal or child abuse history," it added.
It was not immediately clear whether the seven children in the case were foster children or had been formally adopted, so it's not publicly known when or whether a licensing agency or DCS last checked on their welfare. The children ranged in age from 3 to 15 years old.
Court records did not specifically state whether the children were in foster care or had been adopted by Hobson, with whom they appeared to have been living — and abused by, according to police — for years. However, Hobson's birth daughter referred to one of the girls as her "adoptive" sister.
It was that birth daughter who tipped off the police to the abuse that the Hobson stands accused of, after her 12-year-old adoptive sister disclosed the abuse, according to a police statement contained in court documents.
Hobson allegedly pepper-sprayed the children, sometimes on their genitals, but not before putting on a mask to protect herself, one of the children said.
She also locked them in a closet, which one child called "the green screen room," for days without food, water, or a bathroom, and forced them to take ice baths, in addition to a slew of other abuses the children recounted to police.
When police went to the house, they found a 7-year-old boy in a closet. The other children appeared to be malnourished, and they told the officers they were hungry and thirsty.
One of them, a 13-year-old boy, drank three 16-ounce bottles of water in 20 minutes, police reported.
The 12-year-old girl was afraid to eat a bag of chips, even though she said she had not been allowed to eat for two days, because she feared Hobson would smell them on her breath. Another girl, 15 years old, was too scared to answer the police's questions.
When they searched the house, police found two cans of pepper spray. The door to the closet, which the children said they were frequently locked in for days, was equipped with a deadbolt. The closet was devoid of windows, furniture, blankets, clothing, and toys.
The children told police that they had not been in school for years. Hobson had pulled them out in order to film videos for Fantastic Adventures, her popular YouTube channel. Before YouTube shut down the channel on Wednesday, it had more than 700,000 followers. Its videos racked up hundreds of millions of views.
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The videos are directly connected with the abuse. The children told police that they were disciplined "if they do not recall their lines or do not participate as they are directed to."
Hobson's two adult sons, Logan Hackney, 27, and Ryan Hackney, 25, were also arrested. They were each charged with seven counts of failing to report abuse of a minor and were booked into Pinal County Jail. According to police, Logan Hackney claimed that he had discussed reporting the abuse with his brother.
Hobson is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, March 26.
UPDATE: Prosecutors later decided not to file charges against Hobson's adult sons, Ryan and Logan Hackney.