Police: Teen's 'courage' led officers to tortured, starved children
Two Southern California parents have been arrested after their 12 children – ages 2 to 29 – were found shackled and malnourished in their Perris home, PEOPLE confirms
PERRIS, Calif. — Facebook photos posted by David and Louise Turpin tell a happy tale of a large and smiling California family at Disneyland, in Las Vegas and even with an Elvis impersonator while the couple renewed their wedding vows.
The photos present a stark contrast to the squalor, filth and chains authorities say they found this week at the family's Perris home. David Turpin, 57, and Louise Turpin, 49, were being held Tuesday in lieu of $9 million bail, booked on charges of torture and child endangerment.
Captain Greg Fellows, with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, said the situation came to light when a 17-year old daughter grabbed a cellphone, leaped out a window and fled the apparent house of horrors early Sunday. She called 911, claiming her 12 brothers and sisters were being held captive inside the Spanish-style, one-story residence in a sprawling development of small, tidy homes.
"We do need to acknowledge the courage of that young girl who escaped from that location to get them the help that they so need," Fellows said Tuesday.
Fellows said responding deputies noticed the teen was malnourished and went to her home. They found 12 malnourished victims, in filthy conditions and some shackled to furniture, Fellows said.
"It seemed the mother was perplexed as to why we were at that residence," Fellows said.
Deputies initially believed all the victims were children, but it turned out they ranged in age from 2 to 29 — seven of them were 18 or over. Authorities fed the victims, and all were subsequently hospitalized. That led to the torture charges, he said.
"If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished — I would call that torture," he said.
Fellows said the family has lived in Perris since 2014, and the children were home schooled. State records listed David Turpin as principal of a school operated out of the house.
David Turpin, who worked as a $140,000-per-year aerospace engineer for Northrup Grumann, and his wife apparently hailed from West Virginia and had lost a Texas farm to the first of two bankruptcies before moving to Perris, where they purchased their 2623-square-foot house for $310,000 in 2014.
On Tuesday, three Volkswagen cars and a Chevrolet van were parked in the driveway. A holiday ornament was visible in the front window.
Photos on a Facebook page entitled "David-Louise Turpin" show the couple renewing vows in Las Vegas on multiple occasions in the last several years. Some photos include the smiling children, the girls dressed in matching plaid dresses, the boys in matching suits and ties.
Other photos show the family at Disneyland. Another, dated Christmas Eve 2015, shows a baby sitting on Santa's lap in front of a Christmas tree.
"I have seen the Facebook posts like many of you have," Fellows said. "I can't tell you if something changed. ... I wish I could come to you with information to explain why this all happened."
Neighbors in Perris, a diverse community of 70,000 people 70 miles east of Los Angeles, expressed shock at the revelations. Neighbors generally knew a family lived in the home, but they were rarely seen.
"I couldn't pick them out of a lineup," said Kimberly Milligan, 50, who has lived across the street from the family for more than two years. Milligan described the parents as "standoffish."
The revelations, Milligan said, "answer the questions I had: Why didn't I see the kids? Twelve kids, I think you'd hear them in the backyard and I never heard them."
Wendy Martinez, 41, lives nearby and said she last saw members of the family in October — four of the siblings working in the yard.
She said hello, but they didn't acknowledge her and she thought that was "odd."
"I'm speechless, knowing something so ugly could be happening in your own backyard," Martinez said.
Ricardo Ross, 55, can see the home's backyard from his two-story home and he still never saw any children, he said.
"It could happen anywhere, but it's very shocking because everybody here, when we see each other, we talk," Ross said.
Betty Turpin, David Turpin's mother, was equally shocked. She told CNN the entire family routinely went on vacations together and had passes to Disneyland. The kids all dressed alike when they went out for "protective reasons," she said.
"They were very protective of the kids," Turpin said. "This is a highly respectable family."
Hospital officials say the siblings appear to be friendly and cooperative and hopeful their lives will now get better.
"They are stable, they are being fed," said Mark Uffer, CEO of Corona Regional Medical Center. "They are in a very safe and secure environment."
Bacon reported from McLean, Va.