A Perris, California, couple kept their 13 children -- several of them adults -- in "conditions that were horrific," living in squalor, without enough to eat and even shackled to furniture to prevent them from leaving the residence, a Riverside County sheriff's official said Tuesday.
"Our deputies described a foul smell in the home. It was extremely dirty, and many of the children were malnourished," Capt. Greg Fellows said during a news briefing at the sheriff's Perris station. "If you can imagine a 17-year-old appearing to be 10 because of being malnourished, chained to a bed and with injuries associated with that -- I would call that torture."
Fellows was joined by Perris Mayor Michael Vargas, county Department of Public Social Services Director Susan Von Zabern and several medical professionals to provide additional information about the victims and the suspects, 56-year-old David Allen Turpin and his wife, 49-year-old Louise Ann Turpin.
The pair were arrested Sunday on suspicion of committing multiple acts of torture and child abuse. Each is being held in lieu of $9 million bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside. Fellows said detectives are preparing to submit their case to the District Attorney's Office seeking charges against the suspects. The couple are tentatively due in court Thursday.
"The mother was perplexed why were at the residence," Fellows recounted, describing what investigators encountered on entering the single-story home in the 100 block of Muir Woods Road. "We have had no prior contacts there regarding allegations of child abuse and neglect. We have no call history to that residence."
The Turpins' 17-year-old daughter escaped the home by jumping through a window shortly before 6 a.m. Sunday, carrying a deactivated mobile phone with which she was still able to dial 911, according to Fellows.
The girl told dispatchers that her 12 siblings were in need of help, and when deputies arrived, she presented them with photographs documenting conditions inside the residence, the captain said.
"The photos she provided turned out to be accurate," Fellows said. "They were in conditions that were horrific."
He alleged three children were found chained to objects inside the residence, evidently to immobilize them. Six of the victims are under 18, while the others are adults. Fellows was at a loss to explain why the older children had failed to report alleged abuse in the home earlier.
The victims' ages range from 2 to 29, and according to published reports, the juveniles were home-schooled. David Turpin is a former aerospace engineer, and his wife a homemaker.
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Neighbors were surprised.
Kimberly Milligan says she was told the family had a dozen kids when she moved into the neighborhood 2½ years ago, but she never saw that many children.
Milligan says she didn't see friends or family coming to the home. She also never saw or heard children playing outside. But she didn't suspect anything like what authorities allege.
They have resided in Perris since 2014 and previously lived in Murrieta, as well as Texas.
Questions were raised regarding religious zealotry, or even cult-like behavior by the parents, but Fellows said the investigation was still in the early stages, and he had no information about the suspects' affiliations.
"There is no indication of mental illness affecting either parent," he said.
Von Zabern told reporters that DPSS is working to obtain court orders that will give Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services custody of the children and conservatorship over the adults until they're capable of making their own decisions.
She and Fellows both praised the "bravery" of the girl who escaped the residence to seek help for her siblings. A spokeswoman for the Riverside University Health System said the children are stable and being restored to health gradually.
According to Corona Regional Medical Center CEO Mark Uffer, the adults are also receiving expert care.
"They're comfortable and in a very secure environment," Uffer said. "They've been through a very traumatic ordeal, but they're very friendly, very cooperative and hopeful life will get better for them after this event."
Speaking for the community, Vargas extended "thoughts and prayers" to the 13 brothers and sisters.
"We're devastated by this act of cruelty," the mayor said. "Our hearts go out to the victims."
David Turpin's father says he was surprised by news of his son's arrest.
The older Turpin said he heard about the arrests Monday but declined further comment.
James Turpin confirmed that his son is an engineer and grew up in West Virginia.
It wasn't immediately known if they had attorneys.
Anyone with information on the case was asked to call the sheriff's Perris station at (951) 210-1000.