PERRIS, Calif. (AP) – A 17-year-old girl called police after escaping from her family’s home where she and her 12 brothers and sisters were locked up in filthy conditions, some so malnourished that officers at first believed they all were children, even though seven are adults.
The girl was so small that officers initially thought she was only 10. She called 911 and was met by police who interviewed her and then went to the family home in Perris, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. They found several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark, foul-smelling surroundings, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
The children, ages 2 to 29, “appeared to be malnourished and very dirty,” according to a news release announcing Sunday’s arrest of the parents. “The victims were provided with food and beverages after they claimed to be starving.”
David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were each held on $9 million bail and could face charges including torture and child endangerment.
It was not immediately known if they had attorneys. They were scheduled to appear in court Thursday.
State Department of Education records show the family home has the same address as Sandcastle Day School, where David Turpin is listed as principal. In the 2016-17 school year, it had an enrollment of six with one student each in the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades.
Neighbors in Perris, where modest but well maintained homes are tightly packed on suburban streets, said they were stunned by the arrests. Andrew Santillan, who lives around the corner, heard about the case from a friend.
“I had no idea this was going on,” he told the Press-Enterprise newspaper of Riverside. “I didn’t know there were kids in the house.”
Other neighbors described the family as intensely private.
A few years ago, Robert Perkins said he and his mother saw a few family members constructing a nativity scene in the Turpins’ front yard. Perkins said he complimented them on it.
“They didn’t say a word,” he said.
Social media photos show the family at Disneyland and Las Vegas. The most recent shots, from 2016, show the parents beaming after they apparently renewed their wedding vows and posed with an Elvis impersonator.
James Turpin, of Princeton, West Virginia, said Tuesday that he was surprised by the news reports about his son David. All 13 children are David’s biological children. None are adopted, he said.
Turpin said he first heard about the matter Monday night in a call from a reporter. He declined to talk further.
“We’re going to try to get to the bottom of it,” he told The Associated Press.
He and his wife, Betty, told Wheeling, West Virginia, television station WTRF that David grew up in southern West Virginia.
The family moved to Southern California in 2011 from Johnson County, Texas, near Dallas, according to property records.
The Turpins filed for bankruptcy that same year, stating in court documents they owed between $100,000 and $500,000. At that time, Turpin worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman and earned $140,000 annually and his wife was a homemaker, records showed.
Their bankruptcy lawyer, Ivan Trahan, told the New York Times he never met the children but the couple “spoke about them highly.”
“We remember them as a very nice couple,” Trahan said, adding that Louise Turpin told him the family loved Disneyland and visited often.