Found shackled and emaciated, children of torture suspects are freed
Posted January 16, 2018 2:56 a.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2018 2:31 p.m. EST
(CNN) — David and Louise Turpin projected an image of a picture-perfect family on social media.
They posted photos of themselves with their 13 children, smiling as they celebrated birthdays, renewed wedding vows and visited Disneyland together.
In the photos, the couple's children wore identical clothing based on gender and often had the same haircuts.
"They all dressed alike when they went out," Betty Turpin, David's mother, told CNN.
It was for "protective reasons," their grandmother said. When they went out, the couple would line the children up according to age, and the parents took their positions at the front and back of the line, she told CNN.
"It was easier to keep up with the kids" that way, she said.
"They were very protective of the kids," she added.
The parents, David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, are accused of holding their children captive in their Perris, California, home in filthy conditions, with some shackled to beds with chains and padlocks. The 13 siblings range in age from 2 to 29.
They are charged with torture and child endangerment, and scheduled for a court hearing Thursday. Bail was set at $9 million each. It was not immediately clear if the suspects had attorneys or whether they had entered a plea.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old girl managed to escape from their home by climbing out a window and called 911 from a deactivated cell phone she found in the house, police said. She said her 12 brothers and sisters were being held captive inside the home by her parents, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said.
"I wish I could come to you with information that would explain why this happened, but we do need to acknowledge the courage of the young girl who escaped from that residence to bring attention so they can get the help they so need," Riverside County Sheriff's Capt. Greg Fellows told reporters Tuesday.
Neither law enforcement nor child protective services had been called to the home in the past, officials said.
Fellows said the children's mother was "perplexed as to why" authorities came to the home after the girl escaped.
At the home, sheriff's deputies found 12 victims who "appeared malnourished and very dirty," with several shackled to their beds "in dark and foul-smelling surroundings," the sheriff's department said.
All looked like children, police said, and officers were surprised to learn that 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.
Couple renewed vows in front of children
Neighbors said they knew a large family lived there, CNN affiliate KABC reported, but they never saw any of the younger children. They said the kids would emerge occasionally at the same time to work on the lawn and would head back in together.
One neighbor said the children appeared "very pale-skinned, almost like they'd never seen the sun."
Another neighbor, Kimberly Milligan, said the children were thin and appeared malnourished.
In 2015, Milligan said she was with her son checking out Christmas decorations on 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, adding they appeared "scared to death. You could tell they were terrified."
She added, "It just seemed like they went into that child way of, 'I'm invisible, you can't see me.' They just, were not there."
Milligan said she never saw the Turpin kids outside decorating again. In fact, she never heard them playing in the backyard. She described the parents as "standoffish -- not in a mean way."
"I think what I thought was a little bit of that California 'I don't want to judge you. I may not raise my kids that way,' " she said. "The mother and father -- I got the impression that it was 'Stay in your lane. I'll stay in mine.' Never hi, never a wave, nothing."
Betty Turpin, the children's grandmother, said the entire family would vacation together and had yearly passes to Disneyland.
"This is a highly respectable family," she said.
A series of videos on social media showed the Turpins renewing their vows at the Elvis Chapel in Las Vegas in 2013 and 2015, with the children joining them.
In one ceremony, the girls, wearing the same purple plaid dresses and white shoes, lead the processional, and the boys, wearing dark suits, stand with their father.
An emotional David Turpin can be seen repeating his vows in the video. The children laugh along with an Elvis impersonator, and the couple kiss as their daughters clap.
Bankruptcy didn't seem to upset the couple
The Turpins moved into the home in Perris, southeast of Los Angeles, in 2010, public records show.
The next year, they filed for bankruptcy in California, according to court records.
Ivan Trahan, an attorney who represented the couple at their bankruptcy hearing, told CNN that "there was nothing out of ordinary" about them in 2011. They "spoke lovingly of their children and even showed me their photos from Disneyland," he said.
David Turpin made about $140,000 a year as an engineer at Northrop Grumman, according to the bankruptcy documents. His wife's occupation was listed as a homemaker.
They listed about $150,000 in assets, including about $87,000 from 401(k) plans from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, according to court papers. The documents listed debts of about $240,000, which included mostly credit cards and a foreclosed farm in Rio Vista, Texas, valued at $40,000.
A Lockheed Martin spokesman confirmed Turpin worked there and left the company in 2010.
In a statement, Tim Paynter, a vice president for the Northrop Grumman, referred questions about the case to authorities. "We are deeply troubled by the nature of the allegations against Mr. Turpin," the statement said.
Trahan said neither of the Turpins seemed upset about going through bankruptcy.
"They came with a lot of debt. We just knew there was no way they could make their payments," the lawyer said.
David Turpin is listed as the principal of the Sandcastle Day School, according to the California Department of Education website. It operated out of his home Perris and opened in March 2011.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to give the correct spelling of Northrop Grumman.