By Alaa Elassar | CNN
Jordan Turpin was 17 when she found herself crawling through the window of her family’s home, hoping to save the lives of her 12 siblings.
For two years, she had planned her escape after decades of untold emotional and physical abuse inflicted by her parents in their Perris, California home. Equipped with nothing but an old cell phone she found in the house, Jordan ran out and called 911.
“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,” Jordan said, now 21, to ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview on Friday. . “But in the end, when I saw all of my younger siblings, I knew this was what I had to do.”
During the frightening 911 call, she told police that the house the family lived in smelled so bad that she could barely breathe, and she believed that she and her siblings might need some help. ‘to go to the doctor.
When the first policeman arrived, she immediately showed him the phone, full of photos and videos she took of herself and her siblings to prove the abuse.
His daring jaunt in January 2018 led to the discovery of his siblings and uncovered what Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin described as one of “the most serious and most serious child abuse cases. most serious ”he has ever seen.
Some of the siblings, aged 2 to 29, were found chained to beds with chains and padlocks. Some adults were so malnourished they looked like young adolescents.
That morning, Jordan was sitting in the back of a police car and watching her parents, David and Louise Turpin, be arrested. The two men were each sentenced to 25 years in life after pleading guilty to 14 counts of torture, adult abuse, endangerment of children, forcible confinement and more.
Their first glimpses of freedom
When police arrived at the Turpins’ home and said they were conducting a welfare check, it didn’t take long for them to recognize the scale of the gruesome reality for the children.
They discovered a house reeking of human feces, rotting trash and molded food, with every surface covered in trash, ABC News reported on the 20/20 program titled “Escape From A House Of Horror.” The children were found sitting quietly in filthy, soft, frail beds covered in dirt, their arms covered in bruises.
A child was found with his wrist and ankle chained to the bed post; he had been in this state for weeks. Bodycam footage from this day shows the heavy chains used on children.
“The only word I know to call her is hell,” said Jennifer Turpin, the eldest child.
The 13 Turpin children were taken to hospital, where their nurses and doctors began treating them for a long list of issues. Some were so emaciated that they could barely walk, others suffered heart damage from lack of nutrients. A preteen’s arm was the size of a 4.5-month-old baby, according to ABC.
The children had limited language skills and knew little about the outside world.
In addition to suffering from severe caloric malnutrition associated with muscle wasting, many had cognitive impairment and “neuropathy, which is nerve damage, as a result of this extreme and prolonged physical abuse,” Hestrin said.
The first thing Jennifer Turpin celebrated was dancing in the middle of her hospital room.
“The music was playing, I stood up,” Jennifer, now 33, told Sawyer. “I made sure there was a bit of open ground and danced.”
There was also an exhilarating visit to a playground.
“I was so excited because I could smell the air, I could smell the grass. I thought to myself, “How could Heaven be better than this”? Jordan said. “Oh my God, it’s so free, like, that’s life.”
“If anything happened to me, at least I would die trying”
Parents starved their 13 children, chained them with padlocks and made fun of them with pies left on their home counter, authorities said. None of them had seen a doctor for more than four years, and none of them had ever seen a dentist.
Usually their only diet consisted of peanut butter sandwiches only, the sisters told Sawyer. On rare occasions, they were given frozen food. And if they were still hungry and got caught trying to eat something else, they were viciously punished.
Sometimes the children were so hungry that they ate packets of ketchup and ice cubes.
“When you have parents who abuse their children at this level, and they are their flesh and blood, it begs the question, ‘How can a sane person do that? “” Hestrin said on the ABC News special. “And the truth is, sane people do bad things all the time.”
The day before Jordan’s escape, she said she heard her parents say they were moving the family to Oklahoma. If they moved, Jordan said, there was a “great chance” that some of them would be dead.
“It was my only chance,” she continued. “I think it was us who came so close to death so many times. If anything happened to me, at least I would die trying.
Jordan remembered when she started to think about what her life could be like if only she wasn’t trapped. It was because of singer Justin Bieber, she said, whose music and interviews spoke to her.
While her favorite Bieber songs are “As Long As You Love Me,” “Boyfriend” and “Baby,” it wasn’t just her music that prompted her to take action.
“I started to realize there was a different world out there,” Jordan said.
She loved watching his interviews, learning new words from him while realizing the things they had in common. But one day, her mother caught her secretly watching a video of Bieber and strangled her.
“I thought I was going to die that day,” Jordan said. “After all this day, I kept having nightmares that she was killing me.”
Free, but still overlooked
Although they’ve overcome a life many couldn’t even begin to imagine, the Turpin children aren’t completely safe just yet.
ABC reported that a few of the Turpin children were placed in foster care who were arrested and charged with abusing several children in their care, including at least one Turpin child.
Another Turpin child who is now an adult was placed in a home where her foster parent told her she understood why her parents would shackle her.
“They felt betrayed,” Melissa Donaldson, director of victim services for Riverside County, told the show. “Have we seen children sometimes not having a safe place to live or stay? Yes. Did they have enough food at times? They do not have.”
“We have to fix it. You would think now is the time to really organize and do whatever we can, and we haven’t done it that way, ”she continued.
Sometimes some of the Turpin children did not have access to housing and relied on sofa surfing for shelter, Donaldson said, adding that they also went to churches to get food.
“I don’t really have a way to get food right now,” Jordan said. It all started when she was released from the extended foster care system in July with no help with food, health care or shelter, ABC reported.
Unfortunately, her sister is not in a much better position.
“Well, where I live isn’t the best neighborhood,” Jennifer said.
Despite receiving $ 600,000 from generous strangers across the country, the Turpin children had difficulty accessing the money and questions about the reasons went unanswered from county officials who cited court-ordered secrecy, ABC reported.
“They live in poverty. They live in crime-ridden neighborhoods. There is money for their education, they don’t have access to it, ”Hestrin said.
“They’ve been victimized by the system again, and it’s unimaginable to me that we could have the worst case of child abuse I’ve ever seen, possibly one of the worst in the history of California, and that we cannot then bring it together to give them basic needs, basic necessities, ”he added.
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