'Not one person called us' about odd behavior in captive-children case, official says
Mark Uffer, CEO of Corona Regional Medical Center, gives an update on the victims of the Perris child torture case. Wochit
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A Perris, Calif., family at the center of a child abuse scandal kept to themselves, but their odd behavior was noticed by their neighbors who wondered: What are they doing in that house?
In hindsight, the observations may have been the only clues that something was amiss in the home within the Monument Park development. Nothing was ever reported, and it wasn't until this week that 13 malnourished siblings were discovered inside.
"Not one person called us. How sad," said Mary Parks, senior public information specialist for the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.
Days after the rescue, a question remains: How did 13 siblings between the ages of 2 and 29 remain trapped inside a dirty home where a "foul smell" lingered and at least three of them were shackled to furniture?
Their biological parents, David and Louise Turpin, are suspected of child abuse but authorities have released little information on what led to the appalling treatment that was so bad, half the siblings looked like children despite being adults.
"I wish I could come to you with information on why this happened," Riverside County Sheriff's Department Capt. Greg Fellows said during a news conference Tuesday.
The parents are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Riverside County Superior Court, and it wasn't immediately clear if they had an attorney who could speak on their behalf and provide answers.
The family previously lived in Texas before moving to Murrieta in 2013 and relocating to Perris in 2014. Perris neighbors living in comparable homes said the family's house had three or four bedrooms and fitting 15 people would have been possible, but a tight squeeze.
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"My room is pretty big, but for 12 people? Nah," said Robert Perkins, 26, who lives across the street from the home.
Authorities say the siblings were home schooled, but that doesn't mean state education officials were in any position to keep tabs on the family.
In a statement from the California Department of Education, they said “We are sickened by this tragedy and relieved the children are now safe and authorities are investigating. Private schools are required to register with the state to record their students’ exemption from compulsory attendance at public schools. Under current California law, the CDE does not approve, monitor, inspect, or oversee private schools.”
As a school, the home is subject to an annual inspection by the state or local fire marshal. In response to a public records request by The Associated Press, Perris Assistant City Clerk Judy Haughney said Wednesday that there were no records of any fire inspections conducted at the home.
During Tuesday's press conference, investigators stressed the only reason the family was discovered was that one of the siblings — a 17-year-old girl — escaped through a window and called police. They continuously referred to her actions as "courageous."
A case like this is hardly common, but it has authorities reminding people to contact authorities about suspicious activity instead of just ignoring it.
Multiple neighbors told The Desert Sun, as well as other media outlets, that the family was only occasionally seen working in the yard or gathering into a van at odd hours of the night. Any attempt to say hello were often met with silence. Neighbors were shocked to learn Tuesday that there were 13 children, half of whom were adults, in the Turpins' house.
General comments about a family being odd wouldn't have been enough for social services officials to step in, but similar statements from multiple people could have gotten the ball rolling on an investigation.
"That’s enough to warrant a police welfare check,” Parks said. "But the bottom line is, no one called us."
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Colin Atagi on Twitter: @TDSColinAtagi