The 13 children found malnourished and shackled in their Perris, California home were allegedly deprived of many things by their parents including regular meals, access to lavatories, and daily showers. But there’s one thing investigators have found they were given: journals to write their stories.
In an interview with ABC News, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said that “hundreds of journals” have been recovered from the children’s home — material he thinks will likely be able to document what was happening inside the “house of horrors” in real time.
“My guess is that’s going to be powerful evidence about what was happening from the perspective of the victims,” he said. “We have a lot of evidence to go through. We’ve got the journals to go through, more interviews to do.”
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Parents David Allen Turpin, 56, and Louis Anna Turpin, 49, were arrested after their 17-year-old daughter — who had been planning her escape for two years, according to Hestrin — climbed through one of the windows of their home early on Sunday and called 911 using a disconnected cell phone she had found.
Police allege that the 13 Turpin children, ranging in ages from 2 to 29, were found living in squalor with some “shackled” to furniture.
David and Louis were charged with 12 counts of torture, seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse or neglect and 12 counts of false imprisonment for crimes dating back to 2010, Hestrin said in a press release. David was also charged with one count of lewd act on a child under the age of 14 by force, fear, or duress.
Both plead not guilty to all charges and remain in custody. If convicted, each faces up to 94 years to life in prison.
At a news conference Thursday, authorities alleged that the children were allowed to shower no more than once a year and were regularly fed very little. They alleged the kids were restrained by ropes and later chains as a form of punishment.
Malnutrition apparently stunted their growth, Hestrin said. One of the victims, 12, has the weight of an average 7-year-old, police said. The 29-year-old victim weighed just 82 lbs. when found. The toddler, 2, was the only one who appeared to have been regularly fed.
Medical officials treating the siblings say they face a long recovery.
“In more than 20 years as a prosecutor in Riverside County, this is one of the most disturbing cases I’ve seen,” Hestrin said in his press release Thursday. “We are fully prepared to seek justice in this case and to do so in a way that protects all of these victims from further harm.”
Among other behaviors, Hestrin alleged in his press conference that the Turpins, including parents and children, slept all day and were “up all through the night,” going to bed about 4 or 5 a.m.
The children were allowed to shower no more than once a year and none had “ever” seen a dentist, he said. They last saw a doctor more than four years ago, he said, and were fed very little.
Hestrin said the children suffered “severe caloric malnourishment.” Supposedly home-schooled, he said the kids “lacked a basic knowledge of life” when they were recovered from the Turpin residence, with some of the younger children not even knowing what a police officer is.
Bizarrely, however, he said David and Louise allegedly purchased enough food for themselves and would leave some of it, including pies, out on the counter where their children could see — but could not eat it.
“A lot” of toys, all unopened, were also found inside the home, Hestrin said.
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Speaking to reporters after their court hearing on Thursday, attorneys for David and Louise declined to comment beyond broad reactions about the allegations against them.
“It doesn’t get much more serious in terms of severity of the conduct being alleged and also the exposure in prison,” said Jeff Moore, Louise’s attorney.
He tells PEOPLE, “The allegations carry life in state prison. In terms of possible sentences this is about as serious as it gets.”
Echoing that, David’s attorney, David Macher, says, “It is a very serious case. Anytime you are talking about a century of imprisonment is a very serious case.”
Prosecutor Kevin Beecham says, “It is a horrible case. It is unfortunate for everyone involved. Thank goodness they [the kids] are out now.”
Anyone with information about the Turpin family is urged to call the official tipline set up by the D.A. in Riverside, California — 888-934-KIDS