RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Police made a gruesome discovery in Perris, Calif. Sheriff's deputies in Riverside County say they freed 13 siblings - freed the siblings from their own parents. The parents are accused of holding their children captive. And we should warn that we have descriptions of extreme child abuse in the next three minutes. Benjamin Purper of our member station KVCR has our report.
BENJAMIN PURPER, BYLINE: Perris is home to about 70,000 people in the Inland Empire region of Southern California. It's mostly homes and cul-de-sacs, and it doesn't usually see a lot of news. But after the Riverside County Sheriff's Department announced that 13 siblings have been rescued in their own home, TV satellite trucks filled the block where the Turpin family has lived since 2014. The parents of those 13 siblings, David and Louise Turpin, are now jailed on charges of torture and child endangerment. Wendy Martinez lives a few houses down from the Turpins. She described a time she greeted some of the Turpin children who were in the front yard.
WENDY MARTINEZ: And the mother was just in the archway, just there. And as I was walking by, I just said, hi. And the kids didn't even move, like, you know, like, not even, like, to look to who was saying hi or nothing, like they weren't allowed to speak with anybody. Now I'm seeing that that's why they acted the way they acted.
PURPER: Deputies say that early Sunday morning, one of the Turpin children, a 17-year-old girl, found a cell phone in the house and called 911. She told deputies she'd escaped her family home and that her 12 brothers and sisters were being held captive there. Deputies searched the house and found the girl's 12 siblings in a horrific scene. According to the Riverside County sheriff, several children were chained and padlocked to their beds. Deputies described the four-bedroom home as dark and foul-smelling inside. Child Protective Services gave the siblings food and drink. They said they were starving.
The Turpins had lived in the area since 2010, first in the nearby town of Murrieta. In each of the Riverside County homes, they had been approved by the state of California to run a private school. The school in their current home is a secular K-12 called the Sandcastle Day School. Last year, state records showed Sandcastle had six students in fifth through 12th grade. The principal was the father, David Turpin. Kimberley Mulligan lives across the street from the Turpin house. She said she once tried to talk to some of the children while they were putting up Christmas decorations.
KIMBERLEY MULLIGAN: But when we walked across the street, we said to them, hey, you know, the decorations, they look really nice. And what was interesting that happened was, they went into a mode of, like, a child, a child whose only mechanism is, I'm invisible; you can't see me. They were terrified.
PURPER: The Riverside County Sheriff's Office says the siblings were so malnourished that deputies were shocked to find out that several of them were adults, with the oldest being 29. Kimberley Mulligan was shocked to find that out, too.
MULLIGAN: Physically, they don't look their age, and based on what we experienced with them, emotionally, they are not their age.
PURPER: Mulligan says people in the neighborhood felt something was strange, but not enough to do anything like intervene.
MULLIGAN: Going forward, I think I'm going to be a lot more in tune to surroundings - you know, try to break that cycle of, we all just go into our own little houses and just disconnect from the whole world.
PURPER: David and Louise Turpin's bail is set at $9 million each. They're scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning. And the Turpin's children have been transferred to local hospitals, where they're receiving treatment. For NPR News, I'm Benjamin Purper in Perris, Calif.
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