Written By | Eric Killelea
After a 17-year-old allegedly escaped, authorities found her 12 brothers and sisters in their home – and now their parents are in custody
Authorities in California have arrested 57-year-old David Allen Turpin and 49-year-old Louise Anna Turpin on nine counts of torture and child endangerment each, after discovering their 13 children were held captive in their house, with “several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.
Last Sunday, a 17-year-old daughter escaped the house, located in a quiet suburban town named Perris, roughly two hours southeast of Los Angeles. She told law enforcement that her siblings remained trapped against their will, according to the news release. Police and deputies initially thought all were children, but they found that the “victims appeared malnourished and very dirty” and were “shocked” to learn that seven of them were actually adults.
The children, who range from age 2 to 29 – seven were legally adults – were interviewed at the Perris police station, where they received “food and beverages after they claimed to be starving,” before being transported to nearby hospitals for medical examinations and additional treatment, according to the news release. Authorities did not say how long the children were shackled. Their conditions have not been released.
The parents were interviewed at the station and booked at the Robert Presley Detention Center. Bail is set at $9 million each. Here, what we know so far about the Turpins and the alleged imprisonment of their children.
The Turpins were hidden in plain sight
In a report from ABC News, reporters wrote that David Allen Turpin was a Virginia Tech graduate who worked as a computer engineer for aerospace and defense company General Dynamic in the Texas office. Then around 2010, the Turpins moved from Texas to California – to the Inland Empire west of Los Angeles – according to The New York Times. David Allen Turpin started working for defense contractor Northrop Grumman, and his wife stayed at home with the kids. During that time, the couple posted a photograph of their family onto Facebook – the youngest was not born yet – and wrote that “all 12 are our children and we are very proud of them.”
In Perris, the Turpins had a one-story, stucco house in a recently built subdivision. David Allen Turpin used his house to run a state-approved private school, the Sandcastle Day School. He is the principal at the school, which recently enrolled six students, in grades six through 12.
Neighbors told Times reporters that they hardly saw the parents and never saw the children. One neighbor, Julio Reyes, said the Turpins “look pretty normal” and he had seen the teenagers mowing the lawn and putting up Christmas decoration last year. “It’s just an appearance,” Reyes added. The Washington Post reports that other neighbors say they were aware of the children, but they didn’t see them playing outside and there were never toys or bicycles in the front yard.
A daughter escapes
Authorities say that the girl found a cell phone and fled the house early Sunday morning, using the phone to alert authorities that her siblings were being involuntarily held in the dark without much food or water. Officers from the Perris Police Department and deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department met the girl, who “appeared to be only 10 years old and slightly emaciated,” according to the news release. Law enforcement conducted an interview and then contacted the Turpins at their house.
No one has an explanation for why the children were held captive
The parents were “unable to immediately provide a logical reason why their children were restrained in that manner,” authorities said, according to the news release.
In West Virginia, the paternal grandparents, James and Better Turpin, told reporters that they were “surprised and shocked” by the arrest and charges, according to ABC News. They haven’t seen the children in five years. Though they remembered them looking thin, they claimed they were a “happy family.” David and Louise Turpin, the grandparents say, have Pentecostal faith and had many children because “God called on them.” The children were subject to “very strict homeschooling” in which they were made to memorize Bible passages.
The Turpins reportedly filed for bankruptcy
Court documents show that the couple were declared bankrupt in 2011 in California, according to The New York Times. They were between $100,000 and $500,000 in debt. David Allen Turnpin was working at Northrop Grumman, where he earned $140,000 a year. Louise Anna Turpin was a homemaker.
Their California-based bankruptcy lawyer, Ivan Trahan, told reporters that the Turpins spoke “highly” about their children that he never met during the court proceedings. They talked about their love for Disneyland and he “remembered them as a very nice couple.”