For more than two months, the staff at the Corona Regional Medical Center came to know and love the seven adult children of alleged child abusers David and Louise Turpin as they nursed the malnourished siblings back to health and slowly introduced them to years of entertainment and technology they were intentionally deprived of.
But last week, the day all the nurses, doctors, and administrators knew was coming arrived. On Thursday, the Turpin’s eldest children were quietly discharged, confirms Mark Uffer, the hospital’s chief executive officer. (The story was first reported by ABC.) And while it was a joyous occasion in many ways, Uffer tells PEOPLE saying goodbye was not easy.
“It was emotional for the staff and emotional for them,” Uffer explains. “This has been their home away from wherever they were at before, so it was a little bit tough for them and the staff.”
The seven siblings were taken Thursday to their new home in an undisclosed rural part of California. There, they have been reunited with their family’s dogs and are, for the first time in their lives, able to make decisions for themselves.
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Uffer says that the decision to move the children from the hospital was made by their lawyer, Jack Osborn, who has been appointed to represent their interests.
“It was a very touching experience for all of the staff,” Uffer says of treating the Turpin children — affectionately dubbed “The Magnificent 13” by their supporters. “If you asked the nurses, they would all tell you it was a life-changing experience.”
Going Away Party — With a Karaoke Machine
David, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, face numerous criminal charges in the alleged abuse of their 13 children, who ranged in age from 2 to 29 at the time of the parents’ arrest. The charges include torture, false imprisonment and abuse. Only the youngest child appears to have been somewhat spared from the alleged abuse, according to prosecutors.
Authorities entered their Perris, California, house to find an allegedly horrendous scene of malnutrition and squalor, with some of the children shackled to their beds. Prosecutors allege the Turpins denied their children food — while eating healthy amounts themselves — and only allowed them to take one shower a year. Most of the siblings were unfamiliar with how to use a toothbrush.
The Turpins were arrested after their 17-year-old daughter escaped their house on Jan. 14; she climbed through a window and, using a disconnected cell phone, called 911 and allegedly told authorities she and her 12 siblings were being abused by their parents. The Turpins are currently being held on a $9 million bond each and face life in prison if convicted of the crimes against their children. They have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
According to Uffer, the staff at the Corona Regional Medical Center in Corona, California, knew of the siblings’ impending departure, giving them ample time to plan a going away party for the Turpin kids.
“We served them lunch and had cake for them,” Uffer tells PEOPLE. “The nurses that provided the care for them and the physicians that provided care for them actually got to spend time with them before they left.”
The adult Turpin children had pizza and sandwiches during the farewell party.
“They got to sing on a karaoke machine — they love to sing and love to interact with people,” Uffer says. “They can sense people that actually care for them so they were very attached. They were able to sing. It was like a birthday party environment. They made gifts for each one of us, little crafts for each one of us. They made bracelets out of beads that they gave to all the nurses. They had little scrapbooks that they wanted us to all write messages in before they left so they had something to remember us by.”
After news of the Turpins’ arrests made national headlines, donations of all kinds came pouring in for the victims.
“We had a lot of donations of crafts — people sending PlayDoh and sent crayons and coloring books and things they could entertain themselves with,” Uffer says. “There were beads with initials. They would take the stretchy twine they make bracelets out of and would make one for me saying, ‘Outstanding CEO’ or ‘Coolest CEO Ever,’ something like that. One of them had my initials on it. I have three or four bracelets they made me over the time they spent here. They gave them from their hearts … that is all they had to give.”
Hospital Staff Doesn’t Know Undisclosed Location of Siblings’ New Home
Uffer tells PEOPLE that, for security reasons, he has no idea where the children are living now, which bothers him to some degree.
“It is a little bit disturbing for us because again, they are so close to us and we are so close to them,” he says. “We were hopeful we could do a transition with them and get them to their new place and wanted to send the nurses and therapists out to make sure ‘This is where you are going to be staying,’ ‘Here’s our phone numbers,’ ‘You can call us anytime,’ ‘We will call you once a week.’ But we have no idea where they are at.
“From the environment they came from, they had become very attached to the nurses and me,” Uffer reveals. “They truly loved the people they were interacting with over the last two months.”
When they were leaving Corona Regional, “they were tearful and I think a little bit afraid but at the same time they were hopeful that the environment they were going to would allow them to get on with their lives,” Uffer says. “We are hopeful that occurs. I told them we weren’t going to say goodbye — we are going to say ‘Until we meet again.’ We are hopeful it wasn’t a goodbye.”
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One of Uffer’s favorite memories of the children, he says, occurred recently, after he returned from a work trip to Pennsylvania. When he walked into his office, he found the Turpin siblings had placed sticky notes everywhere.
“The notes said things like they love us, they are going to miss us, thank you for caring for them,” he says. “I have a picture with one of my horses and one of them wrote ‘Green Acres is the place for Mark Uffer. Cute little things like that. They do have good senses of humor. They are very loving — you can tell they are just hungry for attention. They realize when people generally care for them. They don’t embrace everybody the same way. It was a very select group of nurses and leadership that took care of them and they were very aware of that.”
Uffer called the siblings “very charming” and says they left an impression on everyone they met the last two months.
“They were genuinely capable of feeling love and genuinely capable giving it back,” Uffer says. “That is what is so heartbreaking. We only read what the parents allegedly did to them so when you see them and interact with them on a day-to-day basis, you find it really hard to understand how seven young adults and six children could have been so abused yet so capable of giving love back. The parents had to have had their heads screwed on backwards in order to treat these people that way.”