A couple that raked in millions of YouTube views for videos in which they played elaborate, disturbing pranks on their children has now lost custody of two of them, the Fredrick County Maryland Sheriff's Office confirmed this week.
Michael and Heather Martin faced intense online criticism and backlash -- yet continued to rise in popularity -- as they posted videos of bizarre, sometimes cruel pranks that left their children distraught. Under the usernames "DaddyOFive" and "MommyOFive," the parents filmed their children responding to weird hoaxes like "Jake Has Poop In His Bed" and "Kid Eats Most Disgusting Food Ever."
Two of the children, 11-year-old Emma and 9-year-old Cody, are Heather's stepchildren. As of this week, they are exclusively under the care of their biological mother, Rose Hall.
Cody was a frequent target, often subject not only to emotional stress but also physical as his parents shove him around. In one, his parents berate him for spilling ink all over their bedroom floor. Cody, looking devastated, begs and cries: "I didn't do that. I swear I didn't do that." After screaming at him for several minutes, Heather says it was all a trick.
"It's just a prank, brah," Michael says as he and his wife laugh. Cody doesn't smile.
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Hall spoke out alongside her lawyer in a video statement: "Cody and Emma are with me," she said. "I have emergency custody ... [it was] very heartbreaking and disturbing to see my kids being abused."
In response to the online backlash and now legal repercussions, the Martins have issued a public apology via YouTube -- "We have made some terrible parenting decisions," Heather said -- but maintain that many of the videos were actually scripted. "Some stuff is real, some stuff was acted out," she told press.
The couple says they thought that bringing in the immense amount of extra money -- the videos reportedly brought in up to $350,000 a year -- was beneficial for their children. "We could give them a whole lot more than we could give them before," Heather said tearfully.
Good Morning America's Sunny Hostin was visibly bothered as she commented on the story. "As a mom, I was horrified by what I saw, but as a lawyer, I saw just clear child abuse," she said. "This is psychological, emotional child abuse."
The family is now in counseling "because we need it," Heather said.