California police have praised the “courageous” 17-year-old girl who “escaped” from her parents’ home to alert authorities that she and her 12 siblings were allegedly being imprisoned.
During a Tuesday press conference, Riverside County Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Fellows detailed how the teenager crawled through a window and fled her parents Perris, California, home minutes before sunrise on Sunday.
Prior to leaving the house, the teen – whom has been described as looking like a 10-year-old – had found a deactivated cellphone and used it to take photos of her and her 12 siblings’ living conditions, Fellows said. When she left the home, she used the phone to call 911, showing police photos allegedly depicting her siblings chained to pieces of furniture and malnourished.
“I wish I could come to you with information to explain why this happened, but we do need to acknowledge the courage of the young girl who escaped from that residence to bring attention to get the help they so needed,” Fellows told reporters.
The photos the teenage girl showed police allegedly depicted the children as malnourished, with “very dirty” surroundings, which Fellows described as “horrific.”
Fellows later added the children’s mother, Louise Anna Turpin, 49, seemed confused as to why deputies had come to her home.
“It seemed that the mother was perplexed as to why we were at that location,” he said. “If you can imagine being 17-years-old and appearing to be 10-years-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished, and injuries associated with that — I would call that torture.”
David Allen Turpin, 56, and his wife, Louise, were arrested on Monday on suspicion of nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment.
The family has lived in Perris since 2014, Fellows said. Before that, they lived in Murietta, California, and in Texas. There were eight minors in the house as well as five women and two men aged 18 to 29.
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Department of Public Social Services Director Susan von Zabern also praised the girl, saying, “We are immensely grateful to the young child who made that call to 911 otherwise we would not have had the opportunity to intervene. We want to highlight the importance that community plays in providing us with information about abuse and neglect.”
Von Zabern added that support services would be offered to the siblings as they recovered from being kept indoors for an unidentified amount of time.
She told investigators some of her siblings were bound with chains and padlocks, according to a Riverside County Sheriff’s Department press release obtained by PEOPLE.
Officers who interviewed the teenager believed the “slightly emaciated” girl was only 10 years old until she told them how old she was. The 13 children are between the ages of 2 and 29.
A neighbor told PEOPLE that something always seemed amiss in the home — though she never suspected anything criminal was going on.
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“Never in a million years did I think they were being chained to beds,” the neighbor said, who spoke to PEOPLE Tuesday about the allegations against the couple on condition of anonymity. “I thought maybe they weren’t being properly taken care of but I never had anything to go off of; it was just a mom’s stomach feeling that something wasn’t right there.”
The neighbor says she never saw the parents abusing their children, who were allegedly malnourished.
She also says that she never saw the 13 Turpin children “scrounging for food” and never noticed any indication the kids needed help.
The neighbor praised the daughter who escaped her parents and notified the police.
“I am so proud of that girl because even if all of us neighbors reported something, it would have taken months for a case for the police to be able to go in the house and the fact she escaped and her bravery to save her siblings and get out of that situation, I want to applaud her. She deserves every accolade and I hope with all of this, these kids won’t be separated.”
The couple, who have not entered pleas to the charges, are each being held on $9 million bonds. Information on whether either parent has retained a lawyer wasn’t immediately available.