Since arresting David and Louise Turpin earlier this week, authorities have learned the children were confined to the house, chained to furniture, starved and often not allowed to use a toilet.
Some of the children are so detached from the outside world they didn’t understand the concept of a police officer or medicine. They haven’t been to a doctor in four years. Never to a dentist.
They don’t understand what relationships are like. How they are supposed to be treated.
Their “normal” was being starved, beaten and hidden away. They marched, it’s said, in formation.
The family stayed up all night and slept all day, as their neighbours slumbered. The children were homeschooled.
Their parents taunted them with toys they were not allowed to play with, and food they were not allowed to eat. Desserts would be displayed on the kitchen counter as they starved.
The starvation, experts say, may have been used as a weapon to control them.
Denial of food would weaken the children, who were also beaten and shackled for minor infractions.
All the while they were kept from what they were told was a “dangerous” outside world.
So dangerous, that the sibling who fled with the 17-year-old daughter who ultimately raised the alarm became too scared and went back into the house.
Despite that, and despite probably never having encountered a police officer, the 17-year-old kept going, raised the alarm with authorities, and end hers and her siblings’ secret torture.
David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, surrounded by the 13 children they are accused of starving, shackling and abusing for years. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplie
''You don’t need to learn what a police officer is from going to school, you learn that from just being out in the world,” said Patricia Costales, chief executive of The Guidance Center, a Long Beach, California-based non-profit that provides mental health therapy to thousands of children.
“To not even know something like that really speaks to how incredibly controlled their environment was.
“They’re going to experience a culture shock even apart from the trauma they have undergone,” said Costales, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist who has treated kidnap victims, some held for years.
The children were all given names starting with the letter ‘J’, according to court documents which did not provide their full names. A childhood friend has named three of them: Jennifer, Jessica and Josh.
YEARS OF THERAPY
The Turpin siblings, seven adults and six children, likely need years of therapy, psychological experts said, adding that if possible it would be best to keep them together.
The youngest should have the easiest road to recovery, Costales said, but added she is optimistic that over time all could eventually learn to lead relatively normal lives.
“Their brains are still adapting, they’re still forming, they’re still developing their understanding of the world,” she said of the younger children.
“But someone who has experienced these things for 20-some years of their life will have a lot of learning to do about what relationships are like, what the world is like, how they’re supposed to be treated.”
Even being separated from their parents, who are now in jail on torture, child abuse and other charges, could be unsettling initially to some of the children, said Jessica Borelli, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology and social behaviour at University of California, Irvine.
David Turpin appears in court last week. Picture: Terry PiersonSource:AP
Louise Anna Turpin in court. Picture: Terry PiersonSource:AP
“When we come into this world, our attachment figures are our primary sources of safety and security, no matter how abusive they are,” she said.
“That impulse or that draw to be back with the people who are supposed to keep you safe is incredibly strong, and that is what has to be overridden to get out of an abusive situation.”
BRAVE DAUGHTER THE KEY
The 17-year-old daughter, who planned her escape for two years, may be a major key to helping her siblings recover.
The fact that she carried out such a courageous act, Borelli said, shows she could play a leadership role in helping her siblings move on from their former lives.
“To me, that is a sign she has something inside of her that is really healthy,” she said.
“One of the things that happens with really prolonged abuse like this is the instincts about self-protection and the desire to protect oneself are totally disrupted — but she has it. So, I think she might be someone who can help.”
STARVATION AND TORTURE
Experts say the 13 siblings will likely have permanent physical and emotional damage, such as anxiety and depression, as well as issues around food.
“When the brain is starved of proteins and other building blocks, brain development is going to be impacted,” Dr Richard Pan, a paediatrician who is a Democratic state senator from the Sacramento area, said.
The brain can be smaller than normal, and if typical developmental milestones are missed due to starvation, they cannot readily be made up later, he said.
The 17-year-old girl hero was so emaciated she had the appearance of a 10-year-old, authorities said.
It was an unimaginable sight, repeated 12 more times at the house of horrors: the oldest sibling, a 29-year-old woman, weighing just 37 kilograms. A 22-year-old chained to a bed amid the reek of human waste. It’s believe the children were allowed to shower only once a year.
The children were tethered to beds with chains and padlocks as punishment and allowed to do little but write in journals, authorities said.
One of the two dogs found at the house: In perfect health as the children starved. Picture:
DOGS WERE FED BETTER
It’s claimed the Turpin parents would buy food for themselves, leaving apple and pumpkin pies on the kitchen counter. Then they would forbid the children to eat them.
David Turpin had worked as an engineer for both Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Louise Turpin identified herself as a housewife in a 2011 bankruptcy filing. The daughter of a preacher, it’s reported Louise saw David without her father’s knowledge when they first met, her mother allowing the then 16-year-old to secretly date David, who was eight years her senior. They married in 1984.
Authorities have given no motive for the parents’ behaviour, which country district attorney Michael Hestrin called “depraved.”
Abbey Kanzer, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Victims of Torture in St. Paul, Minnesota, said recovery can take years but there is hope in even the most horrific cases.
“The hope for treatment is to find a way so the trauma becomes a contained part of what happened to them,” she said. “It becomes part of their story, but not their complete story.”
House of horrors: The rear of the Turpin family home in Perris, California. Picture: Stewart Cook/The Sun