A Maryland couple's YouTube channel featuring now-deleted videos of what they call "pranks" on their children has sparked outrage from viewers, with many saying that their treatment toward their five children has been abusive.
The children appear to be of elementary- and middle-school ages.
"The videos are fake. They're fake. They're over exaggerated. Some videos are scripted. They're played out. The kids' ideas, we act them out … We just wanted to make videos for you guys," said Martin, who lists a Damascus P.O. Box address in his YouTube descriptions.
As of Thursday afternoon, all of Martin's videos except the explanation video had been deleted.
Martin tweeted Wednesday, "I'm sorry everyone but I have taken down/demonetized all videos my family's safety is more important than fake videos."
YouTube confirmed that Martin's videos that violated the community guidelines were removed from the platform and that all ads were removed from the channel.
The viral outrage began after the parents posted a video titled "Invisible Ink Prank," in which Heather spilled invisible ink on the carpet. She and her husband profusely blamed the sons, screaming profanities, as the boys dissolved into tears and swore over and over that they didn't do it. The parents begin laughing before Martin tells them, "It's just a prank, bruh."
Martin did not immediately respond to requests via Twitter for comment from The Baltimore Sun.
Martin has posted similar content in the past to his YouTube channel, which has more than 763,000 subscribers and had nearly 300 videos — many of which garnered over 100,000 views.
In "Dad destroys Sons Xbox One PRANK!," he smashes an old XBox with a bat and a hammer as his son watches, screaming and crying. The prank was allegedly a lesson for his son's misbehavior in school, he said at the beginning of the video.
In "Getting Ready for Disney," Martin tells his son Cody that he's the only one of his siblings not going to Disneyland because he didn't earn it and misbehaved, according to Martin's video. In another video, he pretends to kick Cody out of the home and laughs as Cody cries and hides in closets and cabinets.
A police report was filed by the Martin County Sheriff's Office in North Carolina in October regarding the many videos. Rose Elizabeth Hall told police that she was the biological mother of two of the children in the videos, which she reported after they were brought to her attention by a family friend.
Hall showed a video to Cpl. Michael Revels, in which Cody is slammed on the floor by his step-sibling while his father looks on and laughs. In the police report, Revels wrote, "It is my opinion after watching just one of the many videos posted to YouTube, I think the kids … are being both physically and mentally abused and does not need to be in the custody of [their] father Michael Martin." The police report listed a Baltimore County address for Martin.
Martin County Sheriff's Office said because the incident happened outside its jurisdiction, the department could not take action.
Baltimore County police said they were reviewing the videos to see whether any were criminal and occurred under their jurisdiction. The police said they first received a referral from another police agency about the videos.
Montgomery County police said they received several calls about Martin, who they said lives in Ijamsville in Frederick County. The Frederick County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Katherine Morris, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, wrote in an email to The Baltimore Sun that the department could not divulge whether its staff had met or spoken with the Martin family, but said the department is dedicated to protecting vulnerable children across the state.
"DHR thanks members of the community who come forward to report their concerns regarding vulnerable residents. It is the responsibility of each of us as members of our communities to ensure a safe environment for all to thrive," Morris wrote.
Martin defended himself in a video Sunday, called "Blocking All the Haters," saying that many people didn't understand his humor. The children also chimed in saying viewers were jealous and were ruining their lives.
But many viewers weren't convinced.
"So you monetize torturing the kid. You buy a trip to Disney. Then. ...you don't take the kid who funded your trip," one user said.
"Absolutely disgusting. How can someone do something that causes serious emotional damage to their children," said one viewer.
"What are they supposed to learn from this? They can't trust their parents to not screw with them and then laugh in their faces when the kids cry? Weirdos. I don't see what's funny about this.," said another.
Others, however, stand behind the YouTube user.
"Daddyofive I am still [subscribed] and I will still watch no matter what happens!" said another user.
In the video Wednesday, Martin said he felt everyone needed "more of an explanation," and claimed that his family had received death threats.
"Maybe I got a little carried away sometimes. Maybe the kids got carried away. … We're still new at this," he said, adding that he and his wife are not child abusers and that though he doesn't want his channel to end, "I'd rather lose my YouTube channel and all my revenue than to lose my children, than to lose my family."
"We're going to make things right, and I want everyone to feel comfortable and know that these kids are safe, that this is all an act… and I swear to god, if we continue making videos, you will see changes," he said.
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