They went hungry most of the time and even ate packets of ketchup and ice cubes to survive. They would be punished for stealing food.
Trigger warning: This story contains themes of child abuse and violence that some readers may find distressing
Jordan Turpin risked potential death as she crawled out of a window in her family's home to seek help for the rest of her siblings who had been tortured for years on end by their parents. Jordan and her 12 siblings had been subjected to emotional and physical violence for decades in their Perris, California home. Jordan, who was 17 at the time, had feared for her life and that of her siblings. After planning an escape for more than two years, she decided to make a break for it after overhearing her parents mention they were planning to move the family to Oklahoma. She managed to escape the home in 2018. She used an old cellphone to call 911 and report the situation at her home. "I was always terrified that if I called the cops or tried to escape, I would get caught, and then I knew I would die if I got caught," said Jordan, who's now 21, reported CNN. "But at the end, when I saw all my younger siblings, I knew that's what I had to do."
The siblings aged between 2 and 29 had been horrifically abused with some being shackled to beds with chains and padlocks. Some of the adults looked like teenagers as they were malnourished. In Jordan's call with 911, she detailed the house smelled so badly, she could hardly breathe and added that she and her siblings needed to see a doctor. She had no contact with the outside world that she didn't even know what her address was, and assumed it was the zip code. The 911 operator was afraid the call would drop and they would lose contact with the girl forever. So, the operator kept talking until the cops could reach her. When the cop arrived, he talked to her and it was evident from bodycam footage that she had no experience of even conversing with other people. When asked if she's taken any medication, she replies, "What's a medication," laying bare the disconnect from the real world.
She had documented a lot of the abuse on her phone and showed it to the cops once they arrived. The parents, David and Louise Turpin, were arrested and later, pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including torture. They were each sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to 14 charges of torture, adult abuse, child endangerment, false imprisonment, and more. She watched her parents get arrested from the back of a cop car.
The cops were shocked by the living conditions when they found Jordan's siblings living in a home reeking of human excrement, decaying garbage, molding food, and trash. The children were covered in dirt and bruises, apart from being frail. One of them was chained to a bed. "The only word I know to call it is hell," said Jennifer Turpin, the eldest of the children.
The 13 Turpin kids were taken to a hospital, where the nurses and doctors began treating them for a long list of issues. Some were so emaciated they could barely walk, others suffered from heart damage due to a lack of nutrients. One preteen's arm was the size of a 4.5-month-old baby, according to Escape from a House of Horror, a documentary by ABC. With no contact with the outside world, the children had limited language skills.
She and her siblings were held captive by their parents, never allowed to contact the world outside. But after secretly watching @JustinBieber videos, she says she was inspired to make a plan to escape. | @DianeSawyer's 20/20 premieres Friday on @ABC. https://t.co/RO3GAWJDmC pic.twitter.com/DAGpIj6UCy— 20/20 (@ABC2020) November 18, 2021
After the news of their living conditions came to light, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin described it as one of the "worst, most aggravated child abuse cases" he has ever seen. It was also found that several children had cognitive impairment and "neuropathy, which is nerve damage, as a result of this extreme and prolonged physical abuse," said Hestrin.
STREAM NOW: 13 children were held captive by their parents in a survival story like you’ve never seen. Now, hear from the family for the first time. @DianeSawyer's special @ABC event “Escape from a House of Horror” – is now streaming on @Hulu. https://t.co/WOTRbQ7vFF pic.twitter.com/tbhzuQD3HS— 20/20 (@ABC2020) November 20, 2021
It later came to light that their diet consisted of just peanut butter sandwiches. They were also given frozen foods. They were kept hungry and punished if they stole any food. Sometimes, they were so hungry that they ate packets of ketchup and ice cubes. The Turpin children have been placed in different homes and it hasn't been easy. Not having access to food and shelter is still a problem for them. "I don't really have a way to get food right now," said Jordan, who was released from the extended foster care system in July. People have raised money, over $600,000 in donations from generous strangers but they are struggling to access the money. "They're living in squalor. They're living in crime-ridden neighborhoods. There's money for their education, they can't access it," Hestrin said.
They've been through a lot, but they know it'll never be as bad as it was. Jennifer Turpin, who's 33, couldn't help but do a dance in the middle of her hospital room after having escaped from the clutches of her abusive parents. "Music was playing, I got up," recalled Jennifer. "I made sure there was a little bit of a floor cleared out and I danced." For Jordan, something as simple as a visit to a playground was beyond anything she could have imagined. "I was so excited because I could smell the air, I could smell the grass. I was like, 'How could heaven be better than this?'" said Jordan. "Oh my gosh, this is so free, like, this is life."