Early morning darkness still blanketed the streets of suburban Perris, California, on Jan. 14 as a window began to creep open at the brown stucco and stone house. A 17-year-old girl slipped out into the yard and then, at 5:53 a.m, using a deactivated cell phone, she dialed 911.
The call was the culmination of a desperate escape plan the teen had devised with her siblings for more than two years, and when she spoke to the dispatcher, she revealed a startling allegation: She and her siblings were being held against their will by their parents, and some of the children were chained.
Responding officers were shocked at the teen’s frail appearance and at the unspeakable abuse they encountered inside the house: Three children were shackled while the others were in cramped, foul-smelling rooms. They ranged in age from 2 to 29.
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“It was very dirty and the conditions were horrific,” Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Greg Fellows said at a press conference. “If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished … I would call that torture.”
Authorities arrested the siblings’ parents, David Turpin, 56, and his wife, Louise Turpin, 49, and charged them with 12 counts of torture, seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse and 12 counts of false imprisonment. (Authorities said the 2-year-old appears to have been somewhat spared.)
David was also charged with one count of a lewd act against a child.
Both he and Louise pleaded not guilty to all charges and are being held on $12 million bond each.
Authorities have released details of the kids’ alleged abuse, which included being deprived of food, left to lay in their own waste while shackled and being strangled and beaten. Sometimes the children were punished for concocted “infractions” like washing their hands above the wrists, prosecutors said.
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More information might still be learned from the hundreds of journals the children kept, and according to Riverside County District Attorney Mark Hestrin, additional charges against the Turpins could be forthcoming.
“The victimization of these children seemed to intensify over time,” Hestrin said.
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