The California couple accused of holding their 13 children captive and torturing them for years appeared in court Thursday.
“Severe, emotional, physical abuse,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in announcing numerous charges against David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49. “This is depraved conduct.”
Prosecutors filed 12 counts of torture, seven counts of dependent adult abuse, six counts of child abuse, and 12 counts of false imprisonment against the couple.
David Turpin was charged with one additional count of a lewd act on a child under age 14.
The torture and false imprisonment charges do not include the couple’s 2-year-old, Hestrin said.
The victims range in age from 2-29 years old. Hestrin said the abuse dates back to 2010.
“To give you an example, one of the children at age 12 is the weight of an average 7-year-old. The 29-year old female victim weighs 82 pounds. Several of the victims have cognitive impairment and neuropathy which has nerve damage as a result of this extreme and prolonged physical abuse,” he said at a press conference, adding, “None of them was allowed to shower more than once a year.”
The district attorney said the couple chained their children as punishment.
The pair was arrested over the weekend after their 17-year-old daughter escaped from their suburban home – and used a deactivated cell phone to call the police.
Authorities say she was so malnourished that she appeared to be just 10 years old. She led the police to her home where her siblings were held captive.
Hestrin said the girl had been plotting her escape for more than two years.
He added while the siblings had little knowledge of life, including not knowing what a police officer was, they were permitted to write in journals.
“We now have recovered those journals, hundreds of them, and we are combing through them for evidence,” he said.
Family members said they had no idea this was going on, and that they felt horrified.
“I’ve never been so shocked in my life,” Brenda Taylor, Louise Turpin’s aunt, told reporters. “I hope they prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law even if she is my niece.”
The older children had access to vehicles, but apparently never chose to leave the home.
A psychiatrist interviewed by the Associated Press said it’s common for captives who are extremely deprived to feel so helpless and confused that they don’t take the opportunity to escape.
Authorities didn’t discuss what might have motivated the Turpins to hold their children captive.
Louise Turpin’s sister, Elizabeth Flores, told ABC News that she witnessed controlling behavior inside the home when she lived there 20 years ago. She said her nieces and nephews couldn’t speak to her without parental permission.
She also added that there were times that Louise didn’t even let their parents visit the family.
The children’s grandmother, Betty Turpin, told the Southern California News Group that her son, David Turpin, told her he had a large family “because God wanted him to.” Betty Turpin and her husband visited the family six years ago and she said the children looked happy and healthy.
Betty Turpin said the family were Pentecostal Christians, but didn’t attend a local church.
California investigators searched the Turpin home Wednesday and removed dozens of boxes and what appeared to be two safes and pieces of bed frames.