The mother of 13 malnourished children and young adults who were held in filthy conditions, some chained to furniture, was “perplexed” when deputies arrived at the family’s Perris home, a sheriff’s official said Tuesday.
The deputies had been summoned by a 17-year-old daughter who jumped out a window and called 911.
Riverside County sheriff’s Capt. Greg Fellows described the reaction of the mother, Louise Anna Turpin, 49, without elaborating. He said he did not know how the father, 57-year-old David Allen Turpin, reacted.
The situation at the home in Perris, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles, was discovered when the daughter escaped early Sunday, Fellows said.
The teen, who was so small that deputies initially thought she was 10 years old, showed them photographs that led them to believe her story so they went to the home to check on the family, Fellows said.
“The conditions were horrific,” he said.
The children, ages 2 to 29, are all believed to be the Turpins’ biological offspring, authorities said.
Fellows said the investigation has so far found no indication of sexual abuse but that the conditions amounted to torture.
“If you can imagine being a 10-year-old and being chained to a bed … I would call that torture,” he said.
The family had lived in Perris since 2014, and deputies had never been to the residence previously for any reason, Fellows said.
Social workers had never visited either, said Susan von Zabern, director of the county Department of Public Social Services.
The seven adult children were being cared for at Corona Regional Medical Center, said CEO Mark Uffer. He described them as small and clearly malnourished. They were being fed and were listed in stable condition.
“They’re very friendly,” he said. “They’re very cooperative, and I believe they are hopeful that life will get better for them.”
The parents were each held on $9 million bail and could face charges including torture and child endangerment.
It was not immediately known if they had attorneys. They were scheduled to appear in court later Thursday.
State Department of Education records show the family home has the same address as Sandcastle Day School, where David Turpin is listed as principal. In the 2016-17 school year, it had an enrollment of six with one student each in the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades.
Neighbors in Perris, where modest but well maintained homes are tightly packed on suburban streets, said they were stunned by the arrests.
Andrew Santillan, who lives around the corner, heard about the case from a friend.
“I had no idea this was going on,” he told the Press-Enterprise newspaper of Riverside. “I didn’t know there were kids in the house.”
Other neighbors described the family as intensely private.
A few years ago, Robert Perkins said, he and his mother saw a few family members constructing a nativity scene in the Turpins’ front yard. Perkins said he complimented them on it.
“They didn’t say a word,” he said.
Social media photos show the family at Disneyland and Las Vegas. The most recent shots, from 2016, show the parents beaming after they apparently renewed their wedding vows and posed with an Elvis impersonator.
James Turpin, of Princeton, West Virginia, said Tuesday that he was surprised by the news reports about his son David. All 13 children are David’s biological children. None are adopted, he said.
Turpin said he first heard about the matter Monday night in a call from a reporter. He declined to talk further.
“We’re going to try to get to the bottom of it,” he told The Associated Press.
He and his wife, Betty, told Ghent, West Virginia, television station WVNS that David grew up in southern West Virginia.
The family moved to Southern California in 2011 from Johnson County, Texas, near Dallas, according to property records.
The Turpins filed for bankruptcy that same year, stating in court documents that they owed between $100,000 and $500,000. At that time, Turpin worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman and earned $140,000 annually and his wife was a homemaker, records showed.
Their bankruptcy lawyer, Ivan Trahan, told the New York Times he never met the children but the couple “spoke about them highly.”
“We remember them as a very nice couple,” Trahan said, adding that Louise Turpin told him the family loved Disneyland and visited often.
FROM REPORTER VICTORIA SPILABOTTE:
New details are emerging about the Perris home in Riverside County where 13 children were allegedly held captive.
It was a 17-year-old girl who led deputies to the house Sunday morning after officials said she escaped through a window with a cell phone and called authorities.
“I appreciate the courage that this juvenile had to escape that house and get out there and report this to law enforcement,” Capt. Greg Fellows, Riverside County Sheriff Dept., said at a press conference Tuesday morning.
Fellows said the girl showed deputies pictures of the conditions inside the home where at least three of her siblings were chained to furniture.
“When they arrived at the house they noticed that the children were malnourished,” Fellows said. “It was very dirty and the conditions were horrific.”
Security video from a neighbor shows deputies taking the children’s mother into custody.
Louise Anna Turpin and her husband David Allen Turpin are the biological parents of all the kids, according to Fellows.
Both were arrested for child abuse and torture and are each being held on 9 million dollars bail.
It was the first time law enforcement or child protective services said any agency had contact with the family who lived at their Perris home since 2014.
“It seemed that the mother was perplexed as to why we were at that residence,” Fellows said.
Neighbors also reported having limited interaction with the Turpin family, never seeing the kids play outside.
But Michael Clifford, a former neighbor at the family’s previously rented home in Marietta said, his wife encountered two of the girls often walking to the mailbox.
“Her description of them was ‘clone’ ‘robotic talking’,” he said. “They would both talk at the same time saying the same thing.”
The children were often wearing the same clothing too.
In social media pictures, the family is portrayed as happy in matching outfits at trips to Las Vegas for their parent’s vow renewal and vacations to Disneyland.
Deputies are still trying to determine how long the children had allegedly been abused, but Clifford said he noticed odd behavior.
“The kids would march for hours in circles from room to room,” he said. “You could see them through the window with the blinds open.”
Clifford also reported the parents taking the children out at abnormal hours.
“The garage door would open and about six kids would pile in the van and off they’d go,” Clifford said. “This would be very early in the morning between 12:30 and 2 a.m.”
But Clifford said the children never indicated to him or his wife that they were in distress.
“They had their opportunity if they needed to or wanted to,” he said.
The children some of whom are actually adults ranging in age from 2 to 29 years old are now in the care of doctors and are being treated for malnourishment at local hospitals.
“I can tell you that they’re very friendly and they’re very cooperative,” Mark Uffer, CEO of Corona Regional Medical Center, said. “I believe they’re hopeful that life will get better for them after this event.”
Doctors said they must be careful with their treatment plan and believe it will take years for them to recover physically and psychologically.