David and Louise Turpin, accused of keeping their 13 children captive and shackling some of them inside a squalid Southern California home, have their first court hearing Thursday.
The husband, 57, and wife, 49, are charged with torture and child endangerment after police found their children appearing “malnourished and very dirty” and three of them chained to furniture at their home in Perris. The couple’s bail was set at $9 million each.
Conditions inside their house were filthy, as were the siblings, who ranged in age from 2 to 29. Some of them were shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks “in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” authorities said. Although seven of the Turpin children are adults, they were so emaciated they looked like children, police said.
Authorities came to the home after a daring escape by a 17-year-old girl who crawled out of a window and called 911 using a deactivated cell phone she had grabbed from the house. She told officers that her parents were holding her 12 siblings captive and showed them photos, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.
When authorities arrived, their mother was “perplexed as to why” they came to her home, said Riverside County Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Fellows.
The investigation is ongoing, but the conditions of the Turpin children suggest they’ve been held captive for a “prolonged period of time,” Susan von Zabern, director of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, told reporters Tuesday.
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday regarding the case. It was not immediately clear if the suspects had attorneys or whether they had entered a plea.
Parents ‘kept them away from everybody’
Neighbors said the kids were hardly seen outside. Relatives said they were not permitted to see them. The children were homeschooled at their Perris home, which kept them away from the public, other students and teachers.
Those who tried to speak to the children were rebuffed.
A neighbor of the Turpins when they lived in Texas, told CNN affiliate KTVT that the couple “kept them away from everybody.” When that neighbor asked one of the children her name, the girl said they weren’t allowed to tell people their names, according to the TV station’s report.
In 2015, Kimberly Milligan, a neighbor of the Turpins in California, said she was with her son checking out Christmas decorations on nearby homes. Some of the older Turpin children were putting up a Nativity scene outside their house, and she complimented their decorations.
“They just froze,” Milligan recalled. “They immediately shut down.”
They seemed “scared to death,” she said. “You could tell they were terrified.”
Milligan said the children were thin and appeared malnourished.
What could be next for the 13 siblings
The Riverside County Department of Public Social Services is seeking court authorization to provide oversight and care for the 13 siblings “to the extent that’s necessary,” said von Zabern.
“At this point, we’ll be doing a full assessment with medical professionals to better understand needs of the adults as well as the children and we’ll be prepared to provide supportive services as well as engage other agencies in assisting these individuals to be stable,” she told reporters Tuesday.
When asked if they would go to live with family members, von Zabern said the practice is to identify relatives who are able to provide care, as long as they pass background checks, and are suitable and stable. But at the time of the Tuesday press conference, she said relatives had not come forward.
Earlier this week, authorities were shocked to learn that of the 13 siblings, seven of them are adults. The adults are being treated at Corona Regional Medical Center in Corona, and the six children are at Riverside University Health System Medical Center in Moreno Valley.
“It’s hard to think of them as adults,” said Mark Uffer, Corona Regional Medical Center CEO on Tuesday. “When you see them, they’re small. They’re stable. They’re being fed.”