A Maryland couple lost custody of two of their five children after a series of YouTube videos featuring controversial pranks they pulled on their kids raised concern online.
Mike and Heather Martin, who posted videos of the pranks under their family YouTube channel DaddyOFive, made headlines in April after fellow YouTubers expressed concern about the way they treated their children. Now, two of the children — Emma and Cody — have been returned to their biological mother after she won emergency custody.
“Emma and Cody are with me,” the children’s biological mother Rose Hall said in a video alongside her lawyer Tim Conlon. “I have emergency custody. They’re doing good. They’re getting back to their playful selves.”
An emotional Hall tearfully said it was “very heartbreaking and disturbing to see my kids being abused.”
Conlon and Hall did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Although the videos featuring pranks have been taken down, others on YouTube edited clips together made up of the videos that were removed. In one clip, the Martins scream at Cody, accusing him of spilling ink on their bedroom floor. Cody cries and says, “I didn’t do that. I swear to God I didn’t do that.” A few minutes later, his stepmother reveals it was just a trick using disappearing ink.
“It’s just a prank, brah,” Mike Martin says in the video.
The ink prank is just one of many tricks the Martins pulled on their children — further videos showed them screaming at or pushing the kids, particularly targeting Cody. Martin’s monetized YouTube channel has drawn a number of fans, but several onlookers said the videos looked like abuse.
“The more I dove into this channel’s history, the more concerned I became,” YouTube star Philip DeFranco told his followers in a video documenting his concerns about DaddyOFive.
Though he wasn’t the first to call out the couple, DeFranco’s video drew more than 3 million views and prompted the YouTube community to band together to help Cody. DeFranco said that once he saw the ink prank video, he knew he had to do something to raise awareness.
“It’s one of the most concerning things I’ve seen in a very long time,” he told TIME. “I was horrified.”
The Martins have defended themselves. After deleting the other videos in DaddyOFive’s channel, the couple issued a public apology on April 22.
“We realize that we have made some terrible parenting decisions, and we just want to make things right,” Heather Martin said. Her husband added: “I understand how everyone feels. I acknowledge and I respect how everyone feels about this, and I do agree that we put things on the internet that should not be there.”
Laurie Wasserman, an attorney for the Martins, said in a statement to TIME that it “would be highly inappropriate for me to discuss the details of this very sensitive matter, or any associated proceedings, publicly. All information will be presented to the Court at an appropriate time.”
The couple also appeared on Good Morning America on April 28, saying what they put online was “a show” and not reflective of who they are as a family. Heather Martin said some of the kids’ emotions were exaggerated.
“It started out as family fun,” Mike Martin said, noting that the star power of YouTube views made him want to keep making videos. “It started with me and my kids, but then it was just about making a video and then making the next video more crazier than the next.”