RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The mother of 13 malnourished children who were found being held at a filthy, foul-smelling California home, some of them chained to furniture, was “perplexed” when deputies entered the residence over the weekend, a sheriff’s captain said Tuesday.
The deputies had been summoned by a 17-year-old daughter who jumped out a window and called 911.
Louise Anna Turpin, 49, was arrested along with her 56-year-old husband, David Allen Turpin, on Sunday. The Turpins' arrest was announced by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department on Monday, exploding into a story bringing national media attention to the residential community of Perris, some 60 miles east of Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, authorities answered questions about the case, stressing the investigation was just beginning.
Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Fellows, who serves as chief of Perris police, said conditions in the home were “horrific.” But authorities had never before been called to the Muir Woods Road home, where the family moved in 2014.
After the “courageous” teen got out of the home before dawn and placed her emergency call, deputies came to meet her nearby, the captain said.
She showed the deputies photos that supported her claims that her siblings were being held against their will. The deputies went to the home to do a welfare check.
There, they found three children chained to furniture in a dirty home. The 13 siblings ranged in age from 2 to 29, but the adult children looked like youths.
“If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished … I would call that torture,” Fellows said.
Their mother, however, did not seem to understand why deputies were at the home.
“It seemed that the mother was perplexed as to why we were at that residence,” Fellows said.
It’s not clear how the husband reacted.
The couple was taken to the sheriff’s Perris Station and arrested on suspicion of torture and child endangerment. Investigators will soon present the case to prosecutors for charges.
The parents, Fellows said, showed no signs mental illness. Investigators have no details as yet on any religious organizations connected to the case, the captain said.
The Turpins are being held on $9 million bail each. The children are being treated at area hospitals.
State Department of Education records show the family home has the same address as Sandcastle Day School, where David Turpin is listed as principal. In the 2016-17 school year, it had an enrollment of six with one student each in the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades.
Neighbors in Perris, where modest but well maintained homes are tightly packed on suburban streets, said they were stunned by the arrests.
Andrew Santillan, who lives around the corner, heard about the case from a friend.
"I had no idea this was going on," he told the Press-Enterprise newspaper of Riverside. "I didn't know there were kids in the house."
Other neighbors described the family as intensely private.
A few years ago, Robert Perkins said, he and his mother saw a few family members constructing a nativity scene in the Turpins' front yard. Perkins said he complimented them on it.
"They didn't say a word," he said.
Social media photos show the family at Disneyland and Las Vegas. The most recent shots, from 2016, show the parents beaming after they apparently renewed their wedding vows and posed with an Elvis impersonator.
James Turpin, of Princeton, West Virginia, said Tuesday that he was surprised by the news reports about his son David. All 13 children are David's biological children. None are adopted, he said.
Turpin said he first heard about the matter Monday night in a call from a reporter. He declined to talk further.
"We're going to try to get to the bottom of it," he told The Associated Press.
He and his wife, Betty, told Wheeling, West Virginia, television station WTRF that David grew up in southern West Virginia.
The family moved to Southern California in 2011 from Johnson County, Texas, near Dallas, according to property records.
The Turpins filed for bankruptcy that same year, stating in court documents that they owed between $100,000 and $500,000. At that time, Turpin worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman and earned $140,000 annually and his wife was a homemaker, records showed.
Their bankruptcy lawyer, Ivan Trahan, told the New York Times he never met the children but the couple "spoke about them highly."
"We remember them as a very nice couple," Trahan said, adding that Louise Turpin told him the family loved Disneyland and visited often.