In 1999, a woman in Riverside County, California made repeated calls to Child Protective Services after she suspected that a child in a neighbor’s home was being abused. After authorities finally responded when she called 9-1-1, they found a 6-year-old covered in feces and chained to her bed. She was the weight of an average 3-year-old.
19 years later, many people are wondering why neighbors and relatives never contacted authorities about the alleged abuse of 13 siblings in Riverside County and the Fort Worth area over a period of time that may have spanned at least two decades.
In 1999, Devora Antisdel grew suspicious when 6-year-old Bettye Topper’s mom talked about her but never let the little girl be seen in public, according to The Mercury News. Antisdel continued to make inquiries with other neighbors until her boyfriend spotted the girl in a supermarket with skin that was “stark, stark white.” Antisdel called 9-1-1, leading to the arrest of the girl’s mother and grandfather.
“I had to be certain,” her boyfriend said. “I don’t want to accuse my neighbor of something [that’s not happening].”
But by Jan. 14 of this year, Riverside County Child Protective Services had never received a call about the Turpin family and their 13 young and adult children, despite receiving 58,000 calls last year about other people. It took one of the children, a 17-year-old girl, to escape from the house herself and call 9-1-1.
WHAT RELATIVES KNEW
For decades, David and Louise Turpin were largely estranged from their families. Communication was infrequent, and they lived a distance away from their roots in West Virginia. They resided in multiple homes in Texas and California after getting married more than 30 years ago.
Louise’s sister Teresa Robinett revealed that Louise and David made a big show of living the high life, and that they always presented everything in their household as “perfect.” Over the years, they let fewer and fewer relatives visit.
Robinett said she noticed some bizarre behavior from his sister, brother-in-law, and their many kids, but she had no clue about anything bad going on. The Turpin parents currently face 75 charges of abuse, endangerment, and torture. They’re suspected of starving, beating, and chaining up their kids for long periods of time in a filthy, dangerous environment.
WHAT CALIFORNIA AND TEXAS NEIGHBORS SAW
The Turpin’s most recent neighbors in California saw kids who looked pale and skinny and only seemed to be outside at night — in the rare times they ventured out of the house. One neighbor spoke about how even the adult kids froze in place once — as if to become invisible — when she tried to talk to them. Another neighbor recounted the siblings giving robotic responses in unison.
In Murrieta, where the Turpins lived for two years before moving to nearby Perris, Mike Clifford saw kids marching back and forth for hours in the upper windows of the home every night.
“There was no physical abuse you could see to justify a call to authorities. If there was anything alarming, of course, we would have called,” Clifford explained.
It was all strange, but it seems no one made a call or tried to get to know the family, except for one neighbor who offered to mow their overgrown lawn — his services were refused.
Neighbors in the two Fort Worth, Texas-area homes where the Turpins appeared to have resided from 2000 to 2011 also noticed a few strange things, but there are no reports that they notified authorities. A next-door neighbor did see quite a few things, though.
Ricky Vinyard described seeing the interior of a house “waist-deep in filth” and with “dead dogs and cats in there.” He also said children were sleeping on mattresses in a trailer in the back, and dogs were surviving by eating soiled diapers.
In hindsight, Vinyard says he "absolutely" wishes he had said something to law enforcement back then, according to the Desert Sun.
WHEN TO SAY SOMETHING
Neighbors can be wary about sending law enforcement to go knocking on another neighbor’s door and invading their privacy. Nobody wants to be at the receiving end of that either, and neighbors can be hesitant to do something that can trigger a feud.
Riverside County Department of Public Social Services spokeswoman Mary Parks reminded the public that calls to police and Child Protective Services can be made anonymously. And if you still don’t feel safe making the call, she said to report your suspicions to someone who is mandated to notify authorities, like a school employee, clergy member, social worker, or doctor.
Parks says signs of abuse include infantile behavior, behavior that’s highly aggressive or passive, head banging, begging for food or money, lack of supervision, and injuries and other marks.
Please continue to pray for the 13 siblings as they deal with physical and psychological issues. In other news, tragedy has struck a high school after multiple students were killed and injured in a mass shooting.