Starved California siblings treated after rescue from 'horrific' home

By Alan Devall and Bob Mezan

By Alan Devall and Bob Mezan

PERRIS, Calif. (Reuters) - The 13 siblings found starving in a filthy California home, some of them shackled to furniture, were getting food and treatment after being rescued from a "horrific" ordeal that could leave them scarred for years, authorities said on Tuesday.

Police were investigating the circumstances under which the parents - David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49 - had subjected their children to abuse behind the doors of their darkened, foul-smelling home, Captain Greg Fellows of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said.

The couple, who three times had traveled to Las Vegas to renew their wedding vows at an Elvis chapel, was arrested on Sunday. Each was charged with nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment and held on $9 million bail, with a court hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Authorities were alerted after one of the children, an emaciated, 17-year-old girl, called police after escaping through a window of the house in Perris, a city about 70 miles (115 km) east of Los Angeles.

"I wish I could come to you today with information that would explain why this happened," Fellows said, explaining the investigation was ongoing. "But we do need to acknowledge the courage of the young girl who escaped from that residence to bring attention so they could get the help they so needed.”

The teen used a deactivated cellphone to call police, Fellows said. Cellphones deactivated for service can still make calls to the 911 emergency number, police said.

Police said they found three of the couple's 13 children, who range in age from 2 to 29, chained inside the filthy residence in a suburban housing tract.

Police noticed the children were malnourished, Fellows said, calling conditions "horrific." Even so, he said, the mother appeared "perplexed" about why the police were there.

"If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished, and injuries associated with that," Fellows said. "I would call that torture."

Authorities were seeking court authorization to take custody of the children. The state Child Protective Services agency was assisting in an investigation.

Some of the children were being fed and were in stable condition at a hospital, officials said.

The family has lived at the house since 2014, where the parents home-schooled their children, Fellows said. Six of the couple's children are minors, while the other seven are over 18, according to neighbors, meaning they are adults under the law.

Kimberly Milligan, 50, who lives across the street from the family, said she only saw the infant in the mother's arms and three other children since she moved in across the street two years ago, describing them as small and pale.

"Why don't we ever see the kids?" Milligan said she asked herself. "In hindsight, we would have never thought this. But there were red flags. You never don't hear or see nine kids."

Two years ago, while walking around the neighborhood admiring Christmas lights, Milligan said she had encountered three of the Turpin children and complimented them on the manger with a baby Jesus set up outside the house. She said the children froze, as if by doing so they could become invisible. 

"Twenty-year-olds never act like that," she said. "They didn't want to have a social conversation."

Nicole Gooding, 35, who has lived in the neighborhood for three years, said the first time she saw the family was two months ago when the mother and children were cleaning up their yard, which was full of weeds and overflowing trash cans.

"I had never seen them at all until that day," she said.

 

MARRIAGE RENEWAL VOWS

The parents home-schooled the children strictly and required them to memorize long passages from the Bible, David Turpin’s parents, James and Betty Turpin of West Virginia, told ABC News.

The California Department of Education gave the Turpin address as the location of the Sandcastle Day School, with David Turpin as principal.

In 2010, David Turpin left his job at Lockheed Martin Corp <LMT.N>, a company spokeswoman said. He also worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp <NOC.N>. Both are aeronautics and defense companies.

Unable to keep up with the family's expenses, Turpin filed for bankruptcy in 2011, an attorney who represented him, Ivan Trahan, told Reuters on Tuesday.

At the time, the lawyer said, the couple spoke highly of their children. A Northrop spokesman declined to say whether Turpin was currently employed there.

"We are deeply troubled by the nature of the allegations against Mr. Turpin," Northrop's Mark Root said in a statement.

David and Louise Turpin appeared to have had marriage-renewal ceremonies at least three times, in 2011, 2013 and 2015, at an Elvis Presley-themed chapel in Las Vegas, according to the chapel's YouTube page. One video shows the couple exchanging renewal vows in front of an Elvis impersonator.

Another video showed 10 female children in matching purple plaid dresses walking down the aisle ahead of Louise toward David, who waited anxiously at the altar with two male children in suits.

A third male child dressed in a suit appeared later in the video during various dance performances with the Elvis impersonator and the family.

An Elvis Chapel representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A joint Facebook page that appeared to have been created by the parents showed the couple at the same chapel dressed in wedding clothes, surrounded by the 13 children.

David Turpin's parents told ABC News they were "surprised and shocked" by the allegations, saying they could not understand "any of this."

 

(Additional reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)