Two California parents turned a homeschool into a house of horrors, chaining their 13 children to beds in a dark, filthy room, police say.
David and Louise Turpin were arrested Sunday after a 17-year-old girl escaped confinement in the Perris, California, home and called police. When investigators arrived at the home they said they found the teenager’s 12 siblings, ages 2 through 29, confined in the home, some of them chained and padlocked to their beds in a foul-smelling room. Police said they initially believed all to be children but later realized seven were malnourished adults.
The parents were arrested and charged with torture and child endangerment. Both are held on $9 million bail.
The 17-year-old girl escaped to freedom through a window early Sunday morning, police said during a Tuesday press conference. Police initially believed her to be 10 years old.
“It’s hard to think of them as adults” because they were so small and malnourished, Mark Uffer CEO of Corona Regional Medical Center said Tuesday. Uffer described the children as “very friendly, very cooperative.”
When police arrived at the home on Sunday, Louise Turpin seemed “perplexed as to what was going on,” police Captain Greg Fellows said Tuesday. He added that police had had no previous contact with the home, and that there was no indication that either parent had a mental illness. At least three children were chained to furniture when police arrived at the home, he said.
“If you can imagine being 17 and appearing to be 10, being chained to a bed… I would call that torture,” Fellows said of the torture charge facing both parents.
When they allowed the children outside, the Turpins seemed like a tight-knit family, their social media suggests. The parents posted Facebook photos of their large family dressed in identical outfits on trips to Disneyland, and on two separate trips to Las Vegas, where the parents renewed their vows in an Elvis Presley-themed chapel.
During the 2013 and 2015 vow-renewal trips, all the girls wore the same purple dress, while all the boys wore the same dark suit. The parents hired the same Elvis impersonator as their officiant in both ceremonies. In other Facebook pictures, the children are seen wearing numbered shirts that identified them as “Thing 1” through “Thing 13,” a reference to a Dr. Seuss cartoon.
David Turpin’s mother, Betty told CNN that the coordinated outfits were a way of keeping track of the children. “They all dressed alike when they went out,” she said, adding that the children walked in a line, in order of their ages, with one parent at each end, for “protective reasons.”
Betty and her husband James said they were stunned at the news of the imprisoned children, telling ABC News that the parents were considered a couple of high standing in their Christian community, and that “God called on them” to have many children. Louise Turpin used an email with a reference to Cheaper by the Dozen, a movie about a family with 12 children, to sign up for Facebook, The Daily Beast learned.
But off Facebook, people saw little of the children. None went to public school, instead reportedly attending a homeschool inside the family’s house. The homeschool, called Sandcastle Day School, lists David Turpin as principal, and lists one “low grade” student and 12 “high grade” students, California Department of Education records show.
Neighbors told CBS News that the children seldom emerged from the home, and that when they did, they seemed pale and malnourished. Neighbors echoed police’s observations that even the Turpin’s offspring looked like children.
Medical professionals at the press conference said the children were being treated together in a safe location. The children were being fed, but their long-term needs will be for psychological support, a doctor said during Tuesday’s press conference. The state will seek a court order for custody of all the children, including the adults.
“I believe they were hopeful that life will get better for them after this traumatic event,” Uffer said.
Fellows stressed that officials were at the beginning of their investigation, and that he did not know why the parents had allegedly imprisoned their own children.
“We need to acknowledge the courage of that young girl to escape so those children should get the help they need,” Fellows said.