California couple charged with 12 counts of torture for keeping kids captive, malnourished

Video: Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announces torture charges filed against David and Louise Turpin 

Criminal charges have been filed against David and Louise Turpin, accused of keeping their 13 children captive in their California home, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Thursday.

Both were charged with 12 counts of torture, he said. David Turpin, he said, also was charged with a lewd act on a child by force or fear of duress.

“Sometimes in this business we are faced with human depravity, and that’s what we’re looking at here,” Hestrin said.

Hestrin said according to the children, they would be tied up as a form of punishment beginning “many years ago,” and eventually the parents began using chains and padlocks to chain the children to their beds, sometimes for weeks or even months as a time.  They were only allowed to shower once a year, the children said, and would be punished if they washed their hands above their wrists. Punishments could include beating or even strangulation.

“The victimization appeared to intensify over time; what started as neglect turned to severe, prolonged, pervasive child abuse,” Hestrin said.

The 17-year-old who would eventually escape to contact authorities had been working on the plan for two years, Hestrin said.

After they were examined by doctors, Hestrin said 12 of the 13 children were found to be malnourished, and “several” showed signs of cognitive impairment as a result of “extreme and prlonged” physical abuse. He said they also “lack a basic knowledge of life,” such as not knowing what a police officer or medications are.

The one thing the children were allowed to do, Hestrin said, was to write in journals, and investigators are now sifting through “hundreds” of them as they prepare their case. Other charges include seven counts of violation of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse or neglect and 12 counts of false imprisonment. Hestrin did not say whether both suspects face the last three sets of charges.

David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, have been in police custody since Sunday after authorities said they found their children — ranging in age from 2 to 29 — appearing “malnourished and very dirty” and three of them chained to furniture at their home in Perris, southeast of Los Angeles.

The husband and wife have been held on suspicion of torture and child endangerment, with bail set at $9 million each. The parents are scheduled to appear in court late Thursday afternoon. It was not immediately clear whether they had attorneys.

Teen escaped and called 911, police say

Investigators arrived at the home, they say, after a 17-year-old girl crawled out of a window at the home Sunday morning and called 911 using a deactivated cell phone she had grabbed from the house.

She told officers her parents were holding her 12 siblings captive and showed them photos, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.

Investigators found the rest of the Turpins’ children — including seven adults — inside a filthy home, with some shackled to beds with chains and padlocks “in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” the sheriff’s department said.

The 13 appeared to be underfed, and the seven adults were so emaciated they looked like children, police said. The 17-year-old, they said, looked as if she were 10.

The mother was “perplexed as to why” authorities came to her home, Riverside County Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Fellows said Tuesday.

“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, I would call that torture,” Fellows said.

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.

Parents ‘kept them away from everybody’

Neighbors said the kids were rarely seen outside. Relatives said they were not permitted to see them. The children were home-schooled at their Perris home, which kept them away from the public, other students and teachers.

The family had lived in Perris since 2014, and the nearby community of Murrieta before then, authorities said. They previously lived in Rio Vista, Texas, until 2010, and also in Fort Worth, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.

Those who tried to speak to the children over the years say they were rebuffed.

A neighbor of the Turpins when they lived in Texas told 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.

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,” von Zabern said.

“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 no relatives had come forward.

Of the 13 siblings, the adults are being treated at Corona Regional Medical Center in Corona, and the six children are under care at Riverside University Health System Medical Center in Moreno Valley.

“It’s hard to think of them as adults,” Mark Uffer, Corona Regional Medical Center CEO, said Tuesday. “When you see them, they’re small. They’re stable. They’re being fed.”