By Matthew Haag and Louis Keene
A 17-year-old girl who said she was being held captive by her parents in her home about two hours southeast of Los Angeles escaped on Sunday and alerted the authorities, who then rescued her 12 siblings – several of whom were found shackled to their beds and malnourished – the authorities said Monday.
The girl used a cellphone she found in the home to call the police with her startling claim about her siblings being held against their will, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said. Officers found the girl’s 12 siblings – who range in age from 2 to 29 – in the foul-smelling house in Perris, Calif., living in the dark without access to adequate food or water, the department said.
Some of the children were restrained with chains and padlocks. “The parents were unable to immediately provide a logical reason why their children were restrained in that manner,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
The officers did not immediately recognize that seven of the 13 siblings were adults because they were emaciated. The Sheriff’s Department said the 17-year-old girl who called 911 looked to be 10 years old.
Their parents, David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were arrested on nine counts each of torture and child endangerment. They were being held in jail with bail set at $9 million each, the authorities said.
The Sheriff’s Department did not say how long the siblings may have been held captive.
Sheriff’s deputies provided food and water to the siblings, who claimed they were starving. They were later transported to hospitals for treatment. Their conditions were not released.
California records show that David Turpin had received state approval to run a private school, the Sandcastle Day School, at his home in Perris. The school enrolled six students this year, in grades 6 through 12, and Turpin was listed as the principal.
In a neighborhood where residents often walk outside and children run around a nearby playground, the Turpins stood out for never being seen, neighbors said. Dennis Cooke, who lives two blocks from their home, said he saw David Turpin once but never the siblings.
Roberto Gomez, who lives in the house behind the Turpins, said the family kept lights on inside the house at all hours but never seemed to come outside. Another neighbor, Julio Reyes, said that last year he saw teenagers mowing the family’s yard and helping put up Christmas decorations.
“They look pretty normal,” Reyes said. “Pretty normal house, they have nice cars. It’s just an appearance.”
Perris, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles, is one of the largest cities in Riverside County, which became an emblem of bankruptcy and foreclosure during the depths of the recent recession.
Known as the Inland Empire, the region has rebounded in recent years.
The couple filed for bankruptcy in California in 2011, stating in court documents that they owed between $100,000 and $500,000 in debt. At that time, David Turpin worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor, and earned $140,000 annually, records show. Louise Turpin’s occupation was listed as a homemaker.
Their bankruptcy lawyer, Ivan Trahan, said in a phone interview Monday night that the parents spoke often about their children. They had 12 at the time of their bankruptcy, Trahan said, adding that the children never visited his law office.
“They spoke about them highly,” Trahan said.
He said Louise Turpin told him the family loved Disneyland in Southern California and visited often.
“We remember them as a very nice couple,” he said. “This is shocking.”
The Turpins moved to California from Texas around 2010, the parents wrote on Facebook, after David Turpin returned to work for Northrop Grumman. On a family photo of the parents and 12 children (the youngest had not yet been born) posted on their Facebook page in 2011, a friend asked if all the children pictured were theirs.
“Yes all 12 are our children and we are very proud of them,” the Turpins replied.