Perris, CA – New details surrounding the horrific abuse that a California couple inflicted on their 13 homeschooled children has raised questions about how private and homeschools are monitored to ensure child welfare.
Police said the children and adults found captive in the house lacked basic knowledge of the world and life skills.
“Supposedly homeschooled, the children lacked even basic knowledge of life. Many of the children didn’t know what a police officer was,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin during a press conference on Thursday.
When a 17-year-old was “asked if there was medication or pills in the home, [the teen] didn’t know what medication or pills were,” Hestrin said.
“It’s definitely a wake-up call,” Perris Democratic assembly member Jose Medina told FOX News. “We need to do more.”
David Turpin, 56, and his wife, Louise Turpin, 49, were charged with 12 counts of torture, 12 counts of false imprisonment, seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult and six counts of child abuse, Hestrin said.
David Turpin was also charged with one count of a lewd act on a child under the age of 14 by force, fear or duress. Both parents pleaded not guilty.
Police said that the couple kept their children, who ranged from two to 29 years of age, chained to their beds in dark, foul-smelling rooms in the family home, WABC reported.
But according to the California Department of Education (CDE) directory, the residential address was also registered as the location of the Sandcastle Day School, what the suspects claimed was a private K-12 school were David was the principal.
“The CDE does not oversee any aspect of private school operations which are considered private businesses,” the CDE’s website noted. The CDE also “does not provide guidance on how to home school.”
In fact, the only government monitoring of private and homeschools currently in place in California involves a possible annual inspection by the state fire marshal, FOX News reported.
“I do think the state needs to do more since we are not really doing anything at all at this time, or we have not in the past,” Medina said.
Medina explained that he would like to establish an entity that would conduct annual in-person visits to such schools, and said he may propose state legislation to do so.
“I am extremely concerned about the lack of oversight the state of California currently has in monitoring private and home schools,” he said, according to FOX News. “I have been in conversation with the Riverside County Office of Education, which agrees that we need to do more to protect our students and validate that they are in safe learning environments.”
“One incident like this is one too many,” executive director of the California Association of Private School Organizations Ron Reynolds said. “If there is any way that state regulation can reduce incidents of abuse such as this, who wouldn’t applaud an effort?”
On Thursday, Hestrin said that most of the Turpin children were severely malnourished, and that several are cognitively impaired due to abuse that went on for many years, CNN reported.
The children were allowed to shower only twice a year, and given only one meal a day.
“This is severe, emotional, physical abuse. … This is depraved conduct,” he said. “[The children are] 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.”
Hestrin refused to provide details of the lewd conduct offense, but said that David was accused of touching one of the female children inappropriately.
Hestrin said that further investigation revealed that the couple would tie or chain the children up as a form of punishment, regardless of the victims’ ages.
“Punishment would last weeks or even months at a time,” and the children were not even allowed to be released to use the bathroom, Hestrin said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the children were forced to sleep during the day, and were only allowed to be awake at night. They had never been to the dentist and had not visited a physician in at least four years.
They were also choked and beaten, and often taunted with food.
Hestrin said that David and Louise would allow their children to see the food they purchased, but would not let them eat it. Their 12-year-old daughter had the weight of a 7-year-old when she was rescued, and their 29-year-old daughter weighed just 82 pounds, he said.
Toys were found throughout the home, but the children were not allowed to play with them.
David and Louise did allow their offspring to keep journals, and Hestrin said that “hundreds” were seized by investigators.
“I think those journals are going to be strong evidence of what occurred in that home,” he said.
The couple was arrested on Jan. 14, after their 17-year-old daughter managed to escape the residence, and called the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) using a deactivated cell phone she had found inside the home.
She also stored photos from inside the home on the deactivated phone, and showed it all to police.
The girl had planned the escape “for more than two years,” Hestrin said.
The teen told the 911 operator that her parents were holding her and her siblings captive, and that “some of her siblings were bound with chains and padlocks,” according to a RCSO press release.
Police met with the girl, and initially believed she was only about 10 years old, due to her malnourished state.
After she was interviewed, investigators headed for the Turpin residence to conduct a welfare check.
“Further investigation revealed several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings, but the parents were unable to immediately provide a logical reason why their children were restrained in that manner,” RCSO said in the press release. “Deputies located what they believed to be 12 children inside the house, but were shocked to discover that 7 of them were actually adults.”
The Turpin’s children said they were “starving,” and were given food and drinks before they were admitted to hospital facilities, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Adult Protective Services (APS) and Child Protective Services (CPS) were also summoned to assist the victims, according to Heath and Social Services Director Susan von Zabern.
She said her agency would seek court authorization for the oversight and care of the children, including the adult children, if it was warranted.
The couple portrayed themselves to the outside world as a big, happy family on social media, and their children were often seen wearing matching outfits and similar haircuts.
David’s mother, Betty Turpin, described her son’s family as “highly respectable,” and said they dressed all the children alike and made them memorize bible verses.
She told WABC that “God called on them” to have so many children, but also admitted that she hadn’t seen any of her 13 grandchildren in person for four or five years.
“There are cases that stick with you, that haunt you,” Hestrin said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Sometimes in this business we’re faced with looking at human depravity, and that’s what we’re looking at here.”
The Turpins pleaded not guilty at their arraignment on Thursday. They are being held on $12 million bond each, according to CNN.
If convicted on the multitude of counts against them, the couple faces up to 94 years to life in prison, the Los Angeles Times reported.