The 17-year-old girl who escaped through a window from the California home in which she and her siblings were allegedly kept imprisoned in squalid conditions and starved by abusive parents told the police that she was afraid that if they caught her, they would kill her, DailyMail reported.
Police have hailed the courage of the emaciated teen, who was so malnourished officers thought she was only 10 years old, in escaping to provide evidence of the “horrific” conditions that the 13 children had been forced to endure, including being chained to beds.
“We do need to acknowledge the courage of the young girl who escaped from that residence to bring attention so they could get the help they so needed,” said Captain Greg Fellows of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Reuters reported.
The teenager gave police photographs of the conditions and abuse suffered by the victims–including six children and seven adults–who were “malnourished and very dirty.”
Police said on Tuesday, Jan. 16, they were still seeking answers after making the grim discovery in an otherwise normal house in a newer subdivision of Perris, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles.
The parents, 57-year-old David Allen Turpin and 49-year-old Louise Anna Turpin, were arrested at their darkened, foul-smelling house after the girl’s 12 siblings were found there.
The shocking case quickly prompted questions of how the victims, who ranged in age from 2 to 29 years old, could have been kept in such grim conditions without raising suspicions of neighbors or authorities.
But some experts said it may have been easier for the parents to shield their children from scrutiny because they were home-schooled.
“One of the things that was interesting was, he (Turpin) set up his own home school so the kids were accounted for and not really seen by anybody,” said Sherryll Kraizer, a child-abuse prevention expert and the founder of the Coalition for Children.
The California Department of Education lists the Turpin address, where the family has lived since 2014, as the location of the Sandcastle Day School, with David Turpin as principal.
Six of the couple’s children are minors, while the rest are over 18, according to neighbors, meaning they are adults under the law.
The grandparents said that they are “surprised and shocked” at the allegations against them.
The grandparents added that the couple had no friends or community that they were aware of.
In 2010, David Turpin left his job at Lockheed Martin Corp, a company spokeswoman said. He also worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp. Both are aeronautics and defense companies.
Unable to keep up with the family’s expenses, Turpin filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
A Northrop spokesman declined to say whether Turpin was still employed there but said the company was “deeply troubled” by the nature of the allegations.
David and Louise Turpin were each charged with nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment. They were being held on $9 million bail, with an initial court hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Reuters contributed to this report.