The 911 call came in at 6 a.m. Sunday. A teenage girl was on the line with an unsettling tale.
She had managed to escape from her family’s home in Perris, where her parents had been holding her captive. Her brothers and sisters were still locked inside — 12 of them. Some were chained to their beds, she said.
Riverside County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to find the 17-year-old girl. When they saw her, they were struck by her small size and emaciated appearance. She looked to be only 10, according to the sheriff’s account released Monday.
The nightmarish scene deputies discovered when they entered the house on Muir Woods Road was as bad as the girl had described. They found “several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” the statement said.
The parents, David Allen Turpin, 56, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, “were unable to immediately provide a logical reason why their children were restrained in that manner,” deputies wrote. The couple were arrested on suspicion of torture and child endangerment and each was being held Monday night in lieu of $9-million bail.
The youngest child was 2. At first deputies assumed from their frail and malnourished appearance that all in the group were minors, but they later determined that seven of them were adults ages 18 to 29, the sheriff’s statement said.
It was not clear from the statement how many of the children were found locked to their beds.
Deputies provided food and drinks to the children, who “claimed to be starving,” before they were admitted to hospitals.
Public records show the couple own the tract house where the children were found. Its address is also listed in a state Department of Education directory as the location of the Sandcastle Day School, a private K-12 campus. David Turpin is listed as the principal.
During the last school year, the school was listed in state records as a non-religious and co-ed institution. There were six students enrolled — one each in the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades.
David Turpin’s parents, James and Betty Turpin of West Virginia, told ABC News they were “surprised and shocked” at the allegations. They said their grandchildren are home-schooled, and that they had not seen their son and daughter-in-law in four or five years.
Public records indicate the couple have lived at the address for several years and lived in Texas for many years before coming to California. They declared bankruptcy twice, public records show.
Ivan Trahan, an attorney who represented the couple in their latest bankruptcy in 2011, said Monday he was shocked at news of the arrests.
“To me and my wife, Nancy, who was with me during the interviews, we always thought of them as very nice people who spoke highly of their children,” the attorney said. “They seemed like very normal people who fell into financial problems.”
Trahan said that David Turpin, who worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman, an aeronautics and defense technology company, had a “relatively high” income, but had trouble keeping up with his expenses because he had so many children.
Bankruptcy documents show David Turpin earned more than $140,000 in 2011, when the records were filed, but that the family’s expenses exceeded his take-home pay by more than $1,000 a month. Louise Turpin, listed as a homemaker, had no income, the records show.
A spokesman for Lockheed Martin, another aerospace and defense company, said Turpin worked for the company until 2010, but had no other information.
The neighborhood where the children were found is a development of neat ranch-style homes built in recent years, residents said.
The Turpins’ house is the type found in developments all across Southern California — a single-story residence with stucco walls painted a reddish brown and a tile roof. A nativity star was placed in one window, and a van and three newer model Volkswagens were parked in the driveway.
Kimberly Milligan, 50, who lives across the street, said that when she first moved in she would see a woman outside the house with an infant, but eventually stopped seeing the child.
Over the years, Milligan also occasionally saw three children who looked like preteens coming out of the house to get into a car with their parents.
A lot about the family struck her as strange, she said. The children she saw were very pale — an observation several other neighbors made as well. And she often wondered why, if there were so many children in the house, they never came out to play.
“I thought the kids were home-schooled,” she said. “You know something is off, but you don’t want to think bad of people.”
Once about two years ago, she said, she came across the preteens putting up Christmas lights at the home and said hello.
“They looked at us like a child who wants to make themselves invisible,” she said.
On Monday, Milligan was struggling to grasp how the alleged cruelty could have gone unnoticed in the neighborhood.
“We’re not acres apart,” she said. “How did no one see anything?”
As neighbors gathered in disbelief and news trucks descended on the neighborhood Monday afternoon, an ice cream truck roamed the streets and little boys rode skateboards on the sidewalk.
Several neighbors recalled an incident several months ago in which a number of children were out in front of the house late at night working under floodlights to put sod in the yard.
“That was kind of weird, all four of them were on the ground rolling out sod,” said Wendy Martinez, 41, who lives around the corner from the family. A woman who appeared to be the children’s mother was standing in front of the home, in an archway, watching, Martinez recalled.
At the time, code enforcement officers from the city had visited the neighborhood and were citing homes with unkept yards, said Gary Stein, 32, who lives on the street.
“I thought it was weird, but I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t want to get in anybody’s business,” he said.
Anyone with additional information was asked to contact Master Investigator Tom Salisbury at the sheriff’s station in Perris at (951) 210-1000, or by email at PerrisStation@RiversideSheriff.org