An Ijamsville couple at the center of an internet firestorm apologized and pledged to cooperate as local law enforcement authorities consider if their actions merit a criminal investigation.
At issue are the more than 300 YouTube videos depicting the couple waging mean-spirited pranks on their five children, accompanied by yelling, swearing, verbal threats and what some viewers described as physical and mental abuse. The videos have since been removed from the YouTube channel.
Heather Martin, who with her husband, Mike, created the videos and posted them to his “DaddyOFive” YouTube channel, said in a phone interview Tuesday that she regretted her family’s actions and decision to publish the videos.
“We realize we went too far,” she said. “We just want to return to normalcy.”
In one video, Heather deliberately spills “invisible” ink — a product often sold as a child’s toy that disappears soon after drying — across the carpet of their children’s bedroom. She and her husband blame their son Cody, screaming and swearing at him as he cries and repeatedly professes his innocence. The parents are shown laughing as they reveal their prank to a distraught Cody.
Cody, who appears to be of elementary school age, is the subject of many other videos that critics have also highlighted as cause for concern. In one video, Mike Martin tells Cody he will not be allowed to accompany the rest of the family on their trip to Disneyland because of bad behavior.
A flurry of online petitions and fundraising pages have launched in the last several weeks, advocating for child protective services to intervene.
Katherine Morris, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which includes the state’s child protective services, wrote in an email Tuesday that she could not say if the department had met with the Martin family.
In general, her department investigates or conducts a family assessment in response to any reports of children in danger, she wrote.
“Our mission is to ensure the safety and well being of every child in Maryland,” she wrote.
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office is working with the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office to look into the videos, according to Maj. Tim Clarke, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. The agencies began reviewing the videos last week to determine if the content depicted in the videos warranted a formal investigation, Clarke said Tuesday.
He could not comment on when that decision would be made or what type of investigation and charges could follow.
“What I can say is that we are taking a serious look at the situation,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that whatever transpires is thought out.”
Clarke also would not comment on whether enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions were conducting similar reviews or investigations.
Heather Martin said she and her husband would cooperate fully with any criminal or other investigation.
In a video published Saturday, the couple apologized for their actions, acknowledging that they “crossed the line.” They also said that the scenes depicted in the videos did not accurately reflect the close-knit, happy family.
The family has enlisted the Baltimore-based public relations agency Fallston Group for help handling media inquiries, life coaching and other support services, according to Rob Weinhold, the company’s chief executive.
Heather Martin framed the video initiative as a “collective family effort” that was started for fun. She emphasized that the children were aware of the pranks beforehand and agreed to participate. All five children are under 15 years old, she said, although she declined to give their specific ages.
“We weren’t hoping to achieve anything,” Martin said Tuesday “We were just caught up in our characters.”
She acknowledged when questioned that the family also benefited financially by monetizing the YouTube channel, allowing them to collect money in exchange for YouTube-placed advertisements in the videos. YouTube offers monetization to any users with at least 10,000 views, although the company must first review video content to ensure it meets company guidelines.
Heather Martin declined to offer details on how much money the family collected, or when they monetized the channel.
The channel boasted 765,413 subscribers and 497,575 views as of Tuesday evening. The apology video was viewed more than 1.03 million times.
The family began posting videos in June 2016, according to a statement Monday from Fallston Group. Mike Martin’s “DaddyOFive” YouTube account was created in August 2015, according to the channel information.
A limited liability company named “DaddyOFive” was registered with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation in December, according to the department’s website. Online information listed Heather Lynn Martin as the resident agent, and the company’s purpose as “Internet blogging.”
Heather Martin also registered the “DaddyOFive” name as a trademark under a separate filing on the state website. The trademark name was registered and the $25 fee paid on Aug. 1, according to information online.
Both the limited liability company and the trademark were listed as open and active, according to online documents.
Backlash against the videos began more recently. A story published in The Baltimore Sun linked the beginning of the public outrage to the invisible-ink story.
Critics have spoken out in their own YouTube videos and other online platforms, as well as by commenting on the couple’s YouTube, Twitter and other social media accounts.
Some have also threatened Heather Martin and her husband, she said, although she declined to elaborate. Her children had not been threatened, she said.
Asked what her children’s responses to the backlash was, she said, “They’re upset they couldn’t continue the channel and keep getting views.”
Martin’s voice cracked with emotion as she continued, “We are truly sickened by some of the ways we portrayed ourselves, and we just want to make things right.”