A 17-year-old girl escaped her California home through a window so she could call police and show them photo evidence of the "horrific" conditions she and her 12 siblings were forced to endure by their parents.

The courageous teen, who was so malnourished officers initially believed she was only 10, is being hailed a hero one day after police rescued her starved brothers and sisters from their home in Perris, California on Sunday.

Authorities found at least three of the Turpin children, aged 2 to 29, shackled to their beds and furniture with chains and padlocks in a dark, foul-smelling room in the family home, according the Daily Mail.

Police found the siblings inside their family home (above) after the 17-year-old girl managed to escape through a window and call 911 with a cell phone she had found in the house.
Police found the siblings inside their family home (above) after the 17-year-old girl managed to escape through a window and call 911 with a cell phone she had found in the house.

The victims, including six children and seven adults, were "malnourished and very dirty". It is not clear how long some of them were chained, padlocked and shackled before they were discovered.

Advertisement

"We do need to acknowledge the courage of that young girl who escaped," Riverside County sheriff's Captain Greg Fellows said on Tuesday.

He said the 17-year-old girl managed to escape through a window and call 911 with a deactivated cell phone she had found in the home. When officers interviewed the girl, she provided photos of the conditions and abuse suffered by her and the rest of her siblings.

Police have confirmed that all 13 victims are the biological children of David Allen Turpin, 57, and his 49-year-old wife Louise Anna Turpin. They were arrested and charged with nine counts of torture and 10 of child endangerment. They are being held on US$9 million ($12m) bail pending a court appearance.

The malnourished siblings, who were taken to hospital still dressed in their pyjamas, continue to undergo treatment. Child's services will now seek a court order to have oversight over the 13 children, including those over the age of 18.

Police confirmed that David and Louise Turpin were religious but were unable to say if that played a role in holding their children captive.

More than once: The family are gathered for yet another vow-renewal ceremony in 2013, with the children dressed in the outfits which were then re-used three years later.
More than once: The family are gathered for yet another vow-renewal ceremony in 2013, with the children dressed in the outfits which were then re-used three years later.

There were no signs that any of the siblings were sexually abused or that the parents were suffering from mental illness, police said.

The sheriff's captain said the horrific conditions amounted to torture. It wasn't yet clear how long the siblings had been held in such conditions in the filthy home but it appeared to have been a "prolonged" period.

"If you can imagine being a 10-year-old and being chained to a bed ... I would call that torture," he said.

He added that Louise Turpin seemed "perplexed" about why police came to their home, but it was unclear how the children's father reacted.

Deputies had never been called to the home and neither had social service workers.

Corona Regional Medical Centre CEO Mark Uffer said his facility is treating seven of the adult children.

David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, face charges of torture and child endangerment. Bail has been set at $9 million. Photo / Supplied
David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, face charges of torture and child endangerment. Bail has been set at $9 million. Photo / Supplied

"It's hard to think of them as adults, they are so small," Uffer said, adding the patients are clearly malnourished but stable and very friendly.

"I believe they are hopeful life will get better for them after this."

The Turpins were believed to be dogged by debt and filed for bankruptcy twice - once in Texas and again in 2011 after moving to California.

They were between $100,000 and $500,000 in debt when they filed for bankruptcy in August 2011. At the time of the filing, David Turpin was earning a $140,000 salary as an engineer at defence firm Northrop Grumman where he had been working for eight months. His wife was listed as a stay-at-home mother.

Records show the large family's expenses exceed Turpin's pay by just over $1000 a month. He previously worked for Lockheed Martin but left the job in 2010.

They have had marriage-renewal ceremonies in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator at least three times in 2011 (pictured above), 2013 and 2015. Photo / Facebook
They have had marriage-renewal ceremonies in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator at least three times in 2011 (pictured above), 2013 and 2015. Photo / Facebook

Court documents show that David Turpin had tried to keep his 2010 Ford Mustang in the bankruptcy proceedings but a judge eventually ordered for him to give it up.

Their bankruptcy lawyer, Ivan Trahan, told the New York Times that the couple often spoke fondly of their children but he never saw them.

"We remember them as very nice couple. This is shocking."

The family are believed to have moved to California from Texas around 2010. The Turpins lived in Murrieta first before buying their four-bedroom home in Perris in August 2014 for US$351,000.

The house is also the address of the private Sandcastle Day School, registered in 2014-15 so David Turpin could home-school six of his children. In the 2016-17 school year, it had six students - one each in the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades. As a private school, no laws require it to be inspected.

Louise and David Turpin would dress their children in identical outfits. Photo / Supplied
Louise and David Turpin would dress their children in identical outfits. Photo / Supplied

David Turpin's parents, James and Betty Turpin, told ABC News they were "surprised and shocked" at the allegations.

The couple, who live in West Virginia, said they had not visited the family for four or five years but had spoken to them on the phone, although not with their grandchildren.

The grandparents described the family as very religious Pentecostal Christians.

They said the parents had so many children because they believed "God called on them" to do so. They added that the "very strict homeschooling" would involve the children memorising long Bible passages and even trying to memorise the entire book.

The children also all appear to have been given names beginning with a J, perhaps a tribute to Jesus or maybe even to the Old Testament's Joseph, who is believed to have had 12 siblings.

The shocking allegations provide a stark contrast to the life shown on David and Louise's joint Facebook page. They appear to have had marriage-renewal ceremonies in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator at least three times in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Their children were at the ceremonies and are seen posing for photos in 2015 in matching outfits for the boys and the girls. The 10 girls are all dressed in pink dresses with white tights and white shoes, and the boys are in suits with purple ties - and bowl haircuts like their father.

The Turpin family, as well as extended relatives, are seen enjoying a holiday at Disneyland in California in 2011. Photo / Facebook
The Turpin family, as well as extended relatives, are seen enjoying a holiday at Disneyland in California in 2011. Photo / Facebook

Footage of the ceremony posted online showed the smiling children awkwardly dancing and clicking their fingers behind their parents.

Another ceremony with the same Elvis impersonator in 2013, before the youngest child was born, shows the children wearing the same outfits. Photographs from 2011 show the couple by themselves, but impersonator Kent Ripley said the children were in attendance that time as well.

"I'm still disturbed. This is a sad day for everybody, especially the children, they were sitting right around here three different times," Ripley told Fox5Vegas. He added on Today: "Nothing seemed to be unusual apart from the fact there was a lot of them. They were well behaved and smiled a lot."

Other pictures show the family smiling on several trips to Disneyland, and another shows them wearing Dr Seuss-style shirts, with emblazoned with "Thing 1" to "Thing 13".

It also features several photos of the youngest child when she was a baby in late 2015. She was often pictured posing with her mother, including in a Snow White costume, inside a Krispy Kreme store and at a lake.

The last public images that appeared on the Facebook page were posted in July 2016.

The 13 children of David and Louise Turpin were found emaciated and shackled to beds. Photo / Supplied
The 13 children of David and Louise Turpin were found emaciated and shackled to beds. Photo / Supplied

Speaking to CNN, Betty Turpin said the parents made the children dress alike for safety reasons. She describes how the children would line up according to age and the mother and father would walk in front and back of the line.

"They were very protective of the kids. This is a highly respectable family."

Louise's sister Elizabeth Jane Flores, 41, told DailyMailTV she was never allowed to visit her sibling in California and knew something was "not right" about her parenting.

She said she had not seen Louise in 19 years, and although she still kept in touch with her sister by telephone, Turpin refused to invite her over to her home and never let her speak to her nieces and nephews.

"She never let us talk to her kids. She wouldn't even accept my Facebook request. We all wondered what was going on. My parents booked several flights to go see them but when they got there they wouldn't tell them where to go and my parents left crying every time. They died before they got to see them again. It's just heartbreaking and I'm so embarrassed about all of this," she said.

Meanwhile, another sister Teresa Robinette told NBC: "We always thought she was living the perfect life. She would tell us they went to Disneyland all the time, they would go to Vegas."