‘This is depraved conduct.’ California couple charged with torture

David and Louise Turpin (CNN)

Criminal charges have been filed against David and Louise Turpin, accused of keeping their 13 children captive in their California home, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Thursday.

Prosecutors will seek $13 million bail each for David and Louise Turpin, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Thursday.

Both were charged with 12 counts of torture, he said. David Turpin, he said, also was charged with a lewd act on a child by force or fear of duress.

“This is severe, emotional, physical abuse. … This is depraved conduct.”

David and Louise Turpin would tie up or chain their offspring as punishment — both the minor children and the adults, Hestrin said.

“Punishment would last weeks or even months at a time,” he said. Evidence, he added, suggests that the victims often were not released from their chains to go to the bathroom.

It “started out as neglect” and became severe, pervasive child abuse, Hestrin said.

Most of the children suffered from severe caloric malnutrition, and several have cognitive impairment as a result of abuse.

Hestrin said he is filing 12 counts of torture, as opposed to one count for each of the 13 children, because the 2-year-old child appears to have been getting enough to eat.

The children have told investigators that they began to be tied up many years ago as punishment — first with ropes.

After one victim was able to escape the ropes, the parents began to use chains and padlocks to chain them to beds, Hestrin said.

On the victims, Hestrin said: “They’re relieved. … Their health is being looked at. They’re in good hands. As far as where they’re going to end up, I don’t know.”

The 17-year-old girl who escaped the California home of parents David and Louise Turpin on Sunday had been working on an escape plan with her siblings for more than two years, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Thursday. The girl initially escaped with another sibling, but that sibling became frightened and returned home, he said.

Other charges include seven counts of violation of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse or neglect and 12 counts of false imprisonment. Hestrin did not say whether both suspects face the last three sets of charges.

David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, have been in police custody since Sunday after authorities said they found their children — ranging in age from 2 to 29 — appearing “malnourished and very dirty” and three of them chained to furniture at their home in Perris, southeast of Los Angeles.

The husband and wife have been held on suspicion of torture and child endangerment, with bail set at $9 million each. No formal charges had been filed in court as of late Wednesday afternoon as prosecutors were still reviewing the case.

The parents are scheduled to appear in court late Thursday afternoon. It was not immediately clear whether they had attorneys.

Teen escaped and called 911, police say

Investigators arrived at the home, they say, after a 17-year-old girl crawled out of a window at the home Sunday morning and called 911 using a deactivated cell phone she had grabbed from the house.

She told officers her parents were holding her 12 siblings captive and showed them photos, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.

Investigators found the rest of the Turpins’ children — including seven adults — inside a filthy home, with some shackled to beds with chains and padlocks “in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” the sheriff’s department said.

The 13 appeared to be underfed, and the seven adults were so emaciated they looked like children, police said. The 17-year-old, they said, looked as if she were 10.

The mother was “perplexed as to why” authorities came to her home, Riverside County Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Fellows said Tuesday.

“If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished and injuries associated with that, I would call that torture,” Fellows said.

The investigation is ongoing, but the conditions of the Turpin children suggest they’ve been held captive for a “prolonged period of time,” Susan von Zabern, director of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, told reporters Tuesday.

Parents ‘kept them away from everybody’

Neighbors said the kids were rarely seen outside. Relatives said they were not permitted to see them. The children were home-schooled at their Perris home, which kept them away from the public, other students and teachers.

The family had lived in Perris since 2014, and the nearby community of Murrieta before then, authorities said. They previously lived in Rio Vista, Texas, until 2010, and also in Fort Worth, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.

Those who tried to speak to the children over the years say they were rebuffed.

A neighbor of the Turpins when they lived in Texas told KTVT that the couple “kept them away from everybody.” When that neighbor asked one of the children her name, the girl said they weren’t allowed to tell people their names, according to the TV station.

In 2015, Kimberly Milligan, a neighbor of the Turpins in California, said she was with her son checking out Christmas decorations on nearby homes. Some of the older Turpin children were putting up a Nativity scene outside their house, and she complimented their decorations.

“They just froze,” Milligan recalled. “They immediately shut down.”

They seemed “scared to death,” she said. “You could tell they were terrified.”

Milligan said the children were thin and appeared malnourished.

What could be next for the 13 siblings

The Riverside County Department of Public Social Services is seeking court authorization to provide oversight and care for the 13 siblings “to the extent that’s necessary,” von Zabern said.

“At this point, we’ll be doing a full assessment with medical professionals to better understand needs of the adults as well as the children, and we’ll be prepared to provide supportive services as well as engage other agencies in assisting these individuals to be stable,” she told reporters Tuesday.

When asked if they would go to live with family members, von Zabern said the practice is to identify relatives who are able to provide care, as long as they pass background checks and are suitable and stable. But at the time of the Tuesday press conference, she said no relatives had come forward.

Of the 13 siblings, the adults are being treated at Corona Regional Medical Center in Corona, and the six children are under care at Riverside University Health System Medical Center in Moreno Valley.

“It’s hard to think of them as adults,” Mark Uffer, Corona Regional Medical Center CEO, said Tuesday. “When you see them, they’re small. They’re stable. They’re being fed.”