One neighbor recalled watching the 13 children march in front of their home at night. Another said they never went outside. Several former classmates described their dirty, smelly, shrunken clothes and how one girl held her hair back with a Hershey’s chocolate bar wrapper.
As more horrific, heartbreaking details continue to emerge about how David and Louise Turpin allegedly starved, abused, tortured, and locked away their 13 children for decades in filth-filled homes from Texas to California, former classmates and neighbors are coming forward expressing sorrow, regret, and guilt for noticing and then ignoring signs that there was something wrong.
Last week, the Turpin children were freed from their house in Perris, California, where authorities say chains and padlocks hung on beds and doors, after a 17-year-old girl escaped through a window and called 911 on a disconnected cell phone. Authorities found her 12 siblings, whose ages range from 2 to 29, filthy and so malnourished that they exhibited signs of cognitive impairment and nerve damage, prosecutors said.
One child, aged 12, was the weight of an average 7-year-old. Their 29-year-old sibling weighed 82 pounds, Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin said last week, calling the parents’ behavior “depraved conduct.”
The parents have been charged with nearly 40 counts each, including 12 counts of torture and six counts of child abuse. David Turpin, 56, was charged with one count of a lewd act on one of his younger children, under 14, by force or fear.
Both parents have pleaded not guilty.
On Wednesday, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Emma Smith barred the couple from contacting their children for the next three years by any means. They cannot be within 100 yards of them, stalk them, or try to get their addresses, and only a lawyer can deliver messages, media reported.
As officials continue to peel back the layers of what the Turpin children endured, neighbors, classmates, and family members have also been sharing what they saw and shelved as odd behavior coming from a strange, large family who preferred to keep to themselves.
Before settling into their suburban home in Perris, the family lived in the rural Texan town of Rio Vista.
For 10 years, Texas neighbors say, the “strange” family kept to themselves and the children rarely came out of the double-wide mobile home they moved into after “trashing” the house.
One year, for Christmas, the parents bought eight children’s bicycles, but they sat outside in the yard for months, untouched, with the price tags still on, Ricky Vinyard, who lived about 200 yards away, told the Desert Sun.
Once, one of the older girls tried to run away, but was brought back by a local resident, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Then, one day, the family abruptly moved to California in the middle of the night, Vinyard said. Curious, he walked through the abandoned trailer.
“It was waist-deep in filth,” he told the Times. “There were dead dogs and cats in there.” He also said he found two Chihuahuas eating waste from a mound of dirty diapers, and that there were locks on the closets, beds, doors, and refrigerator.
The man who bought the property a year later told ABC News that the bathroom floor was rotted out. He found Polaroids, which showed a rope tied to the end of a bed rail.
The living room, which was flecked with feces, had eight small desks, a chalkboard, and posters on the wall. The Turpins homeschooled their children for decades, with David as the administrator and principal. In Southern California, Turpin ran the Sandcastle Day School out of his home. But education officials never visited or checked on the students, because they aren’t required to by law.
When some of the children did attend a public school, they were bullied for their smelly clothes. In third grade, one girl was dubbed “the cootie kid” who “nobody wanted to be caught talking to.”
In a now viral Facebook post, her former third-grade classmate described her as “a frail girl, had pin-straight hair with bangs, and often wore the same purple outfit.”
“She was often made fun of by the other third-graders because her clothes would sometimes look as though they had been dragged through mud, which she would also smell like on most days,” wrote Taha Muntajibuddin.
The entire class made fun of her after her teacher asked her to remove the tin foil wrapper from “an old Hershey’s bar” that she was using as a scrunchie to hold back her hair.
Now 28, Muntajibuddin said he “feels an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame” after reading all the stories about his classmate and her family.
“You can’t help but feel rotten when the classmate your peers made fun of for ‘smelling like poop’ quite literally had to sit in her own waste because she was chained to her bed,” he continued on Facebook. “It is nothing but sobering to know that the person who sat across from you at the lunch table went home to squalor and filth while you went home to a warm meal and a bedtime story.”
Another classmate told the Associated Press she always wore the same stained jeans that were too small and looked like “someone kind of slung her around like a rag doll.”
Years later, after the family had resettled in California, one of the Turpin children briefly attended San Jacinto College. He wore the same clothes every day and looked “famished,” one former classmate told NBC4, recalling how, at a school potluck, he stood by the table and scarfed down “plate after plate after plate” of food.
Late at night, the 13 children would continuously march in circles inside their home in Murrieta, California, neighbor Mike Clifford told the Los Angeles Times.
“It was kind of strange, [but] there was never anything to say, ‘Oh my god. I should call somebody,’” said Clifford, adding that he now has trouble sleeping thinking about the kids.
The children’s grandparents have told various media outlets that, while they had not seen the family in years, nothing seemed wrong.
Louise Turpin was obsessed with having a big family and wanted to have a reality TV show, like Kate Plus 8, her brother, Billy Lambert, told the Mirror.
“She thought the world would be fascinated by their lives,” he said.