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Parents Behind Disturbing YouTube Pranks Lose Custody of Kids

Photograph by Youtube

The recent rise and fall of YouTube-famous Daddy of Five proves there's a huge difference between lighthearted pranks and harmful "pranks." The Baltimore, Maryland, couple behind the videos, Mike and Heather Martin, have now lost custody of two of their children after coming under fire for their controversial videos.

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While the Martins have "normal" homemade videos, their most viral ones include pranks that viewers have called emotionally and physically abusive. In one video, the parents poured disappearing ink on their kids' bedroom floor, then pretending to blame Cody, the youngest of the five and and the most targeted of the kids, for spilling the ink. His stepmom Heather goes on to scream and swear, "Get your fucking ass up here" and "What the fuck!" at the 9-year-old, causing the boy to cry and scream to prove his innocence, before the dad reveals it's just a prank.

Other videos, all of which have since been removed, show the father shoving Cody into a bookshelf, the father encouraging the siblings to gang up on each other, or Cody watching his new tablet computer being smashed in front of him. Throughout these videos, the underlying excuse is for the child to "take a joke" or "it's just a prank, bro." But, really, how is any of this funny?

The channel currently has almost 800,000 subscribers and have racked in millions of views as well as some serious cash. According to New York magazine, estimates of Daddy of Five's income range from $200,000 to $350,000 annually in a largely unregulated industry.

Responsibility fell on an audience that tried to keep the parents in check. The more popular their videos got, the more outrage from viewers. Popular YouTuber Philip DeFranco even dedicated a segment to Daddy of Five in which he edited some of the family's worst moments together.

Mike and Heather first released a video and called those who opposed the videos "haters." They also claimed the videos were fake.

The couple then created another video, apologizing for their behavior and saying, "What started out as family fun and entertainment took on a life of its own. Before we knew it, we were caught up in our family's popularity which led to some poor decisions. Upon reflection, we realize there were mistakes made that caused our family some pain; we offer our most humble and sincere apology to those we negatively impacted and offended, particularly our wonderful children. Our children are safe. Off camera and out of character, they are normal, happy kids who play sports and love being with their family and friends. Thank you for your understanding as we work through this difficult time."

The Martins also told ABC News in an exclusive interview that the videos had a mix of "real" and scripted scenes.

"(The kids) would get excited when they would get a lot of views. You know, it was more for shock value. We were going for shock value," Heather said. "What you see on our YouTube channel is not a reflection of who we are. It's not. It's a character. It was a show. A bad show. But it was a show."

For Mike, he thought his kids would be proud of him for becoming famous.

"You got dads out there, they're lawyers. I'm not no lawyer. You've got dads out there that are doctors. I can't do that," he said. "I'm not bein' the dad that they deserve. I'm not hero to them. But then startin' YouTube and seein' how happy these kids get when they get these views ..."

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Cody and his 12-year-old sister Emma are now living with their birth mother, Rose Hall.

Hall appeared in a video with her lawyer, Tim Conlon, and thanked viewers for calling for the safety of her children.

"They're doing good," Hall said. "They're getting back to their playful selves."

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