(ABC NEWS) – The California parents accused of starving and shackling their 13 children allegedly forced them to shower only once a year, never took them to a dentist, and strangled and beat them routinely, prosecutors said today.
David Turpin, 57, and Louise Turpin, 49, were arrested on charges of torture and child endangerment after their children were found Sunday at their home. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office described the residence as “dark and foul-smelling.”
Betty Turpin and her husband James Turpin of Princeton, West Virginia visited her son’s family for five days at their previous home in Murrieta, California.
Betty Turpin told the Southern California News Group on Wednesday that they are still in shock from learning that her son and his wife were arrested this week, their children, ages 2 to 29, found malnourished with some in shackles.
The “depraved” details were shared in a press conference led by Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin today.
The abuse intensified when the family moved from Texas to California, Hestrin said. The victims reported that the punishments started many years ago with their parents tying them up, first with ropes. When one victim was able to escape the ropes, “these defendants eventually began using chains and padlocks,” Hestrin said.
The punishments lasted weeks or months at a time, he said.
The victims weren’t released from their chains even to go to the bathroom, Hestrin said. They were also not allowed to shower more than once a year, he said.
If the children washed their hands above the wrist, they were accused of playing in the water and were chained up, Hestrin said. None have ever seen a dentist and they haven’t been to a doctor in over four years, he added.
Hestrin said the parents would buy food including pies and “leave it on the counter, let the children look at it, but not eat the food.”
“Supposedly homeschooled, the children lacked even basic knowledge of life. Many of the children didn’t know what a police officer was,” Hestrin said. When a 17-year-old was “asked if there was medication or pills in the home, [the teen] didn’t know what medication or pills were.”
Hestrin added, “The only thing the children were allowed to do in their room or chained up was to write in journals, we now have recovered those journals — hundreds of them. And we are combing through them.”
Hestrin said that at least one of the older victims attended some outside classes. “Louise Turpin would accompany him, wait outside the classroom for him. When he was finished with class, she would take him home,” Hestrin said.
The children were not allowed to have toys, although many toys were found in the house in their original packaging, never opened, Hestrin said.
The family would “sleep all day” and be “up all night,” typically going to sleep around 4 or 5 a.m., he said.
The children were rescued Sunday after one of the children — a 17-year-old girl — allegedly escaped through a window and called 911. Responding officers said the teen was slightly emaciated and “appeared to be only 10 years old.”
Hestrin said the 17-year-old worked on a plan to escape for more than two years with her siblings. He said another sibling escaped with her, but that sibling became afraid and returned to the house.
When authorities arrived, three victims were discovered chained up, Hestrin said, adding that the Turpins managed to get two victims unchained before deputies entered. He said a 22-year-old old remained chained to the bed when officials came inside.
All the victims except for the toddler are severely malnourished, Hestrin said, adding that the eldest victim — a 29-year-old woman — weighs only 82 pounds. He said another child, a 12-year-old, is the weight of an average 7-year-old.
The victims have since been hospitalized for treatment. Doctors told ABC News the siblings were starved for years.
Hestin added that prosecutors believe all the children were born at hospitals.
Child Protective Services said it is receiving calls from around the world from people who want to help the siblings financially. Because the agency does not want the siblings to be taxed for the money they receive, it is setting up a fund for them to go through the Riverside County Regional Medical Center Foundation. All GoFundMe campaigns that claim they benefit the siblings are fake, CPS said.
The agency also listed the clothes that are needed for the adult patients, which are almost all in children’s sizes, a graphic released by Corona Chamber of Commerce showed.
Criminal charges were filed today against the parents, including torture. The Turpins are expected to be arraigned today, where they will be represented by attorneys with the Riverside County Public Defender’s Office.
If convicted on all charges, they face up to 94 years to life in prison, officials said.