A horrifying story emerged out of California this week after authorities investigated a report of 13 siblings being held captive in a home. The news is out of the fast-growing desert city of Perris in Riverside County, southeast of Los Angeles.
According to KTLA 5, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department was notified after a girl that appeared to be 10 years old called 911 Sunday morning from a cell phone to report that she’d escaped from a home where she and her 12 siblings had been held captive. Investigators met her and were shocked when she told them that her age was actually 17.
Officers arrived to discover what appeared to be 12 children living in “dark and foul-smelling surroundings. They found “several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks.”
The officers were also shocked to find out that the “children” were as young as 2 but as old as 29. The adult victims were so “malnourished and very dirty” that, like their escaped sister, they appeared to be much younger than their actual age.
Their parents, 57-year-old David Allen Turpin and 49-year-old Louise Anna Turpin, did not "immediately provide a logical reason" for the terrifying living conditions and imprisonments of their six young and seven adult kids, ABC 7 reports.
It’s unknown how long they were kept in that condition. The home is in a nice-looking neighborhood and is only 5 years old. Oddly enough, the address for the home, as reported by The Press-Enterprise, is for the Sandcastle Day School, founded in 2014. According to state records, David Turpin was the principal.
The victims were taken from their home Sunday and eagerly accepted food and beverages. They reported that they were “starving” and have all been hospitalized. Their parents were arrested on suspicion of nine counts torture and 10 child endangerment. They both had their bails set at $9 million.
Now more details are emerging about the family's bizarre behavior and how they were perceived by their neighbors. Those living around them said they rarely saw the kids, except when a group of them would come outside to do yard work, which wasn't very often. The front lawn was usually unkempt.
Andrew Santillan lives just around the corner from the Turpins' house but said, “I had no idea this was going on. I didn’t know there were kids in the house.”
Neighbor Zinzi Ross told news crews, “It’s crazy. I can’t believe this is going on."
Kimberly Milligan, who lives just across the street, said, "I thought the kids were home-schooled. You know something is off, but you don't want to think bad of people."
According to NPR, she told a story about how she tried talking to three of the adult children a couple years ago when they were in front of the house, but they froze in place as if to "become invisible."
"Twenty-year-olds never act like that. They didn't want to have a social conversation," Milligan observed.
But photos posted on social media show that the entire family did leave the house at times, visiting places like Disneyland and Las Vegas. The parents renewed their wedding vows at least three times within four years.
Heavy.com discovered a photo of the entire family from 2015, posing with an Elvis impersonator while the parents renewed their vows in Las Vegas. The photo has been edited to protect the identity of the victims, but it's difficult to tell that seven of the kids are adults.
Another family photo showed what looked like, on the surface, to be a happy family of 15. According to witness, the family always dressed alike when seen in public.
Observers have noted that the kids in the photos do appear to be thin but not particularly starving. One neighbor did once joke that they looked like the Cullen vampire family from the "Twilight" book series.
“They only came out at night. They were really, really pale,” said Andria Valdez.
It appears that the Turpins had moved from Texas to California in 2009, living first in Murrieta before moving to their current house in nearby Perris in 2014. David had worked as an engineer for Northrop Grumman for at least a year.
Then financial difficulties hit, with the family declaring bankruptcy twice. According to records, the in-home daycare continued to run until 2017. It only had six children, and it's unknown if any or all of them were the Turpin kids themselves. The state of California requires homeschool families to be affiliated with a private school.
David's parents were "surprised and shocked" to learn this week about what their son and daughter-in-law had been accused of. They thought of them as "a good Christian family" who homeschooled their own kids, but they hadn't actually seen them in person in several years.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, authorities and health professionals were only willing to give a few details. The director of the California Department of Social Services praised the Turpins' 17-year-old daughter for her courageous actions in escaping and calling 911. She indicated that this was the first time her department had heard about problems in the home.
The Riverside University Health System is treating the young kids. Their spokeswoman says stunted growth in children due to malnutrition is something that happens over years, which would explain the young appearance of the adult kids. She emphasized that these kids “will need a lot of support” because recovery in these situations could take years.
Corona Regional Medical Center is treating the adult children and called them malnourished but stable. Their spokesman said he'd never seen a case like this before.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department also answered questions from the press. Their spokesman said his department had had no prior contact with the family or had received any reports of abuse until now. The investigator described the house as “extremely dirty” when they entered. At least three individuals were chained to furniture in the house. As far as they know, the couple is the biological parents of all the kids.
This story is still developing. Our prayers go out to these victims as they recover from their ordeal. In other news, a well-known Gospel singer has died at the age of 74.