Riverside, California: A 17-year-old girl who had just escaped her home of horrors called police dispatchers and revealed in a high-pitched voice the abuse that had gone on for years.
“My two little sisters right now are chained up,” she said in a recording played Wednesday during a hearing to determine if her mother and father stand trial for a raft of abuse charges.
“They will wake up at night and they will start crying and they wanted me to call somebody,” she said of her siblings. “I wanted to call y’all so y’all can help my sisters.”
The girl’s mother, Louise Turpin, dabbed her eyes with a tissue as the 911 call was played in Riverside County Superior Court.
David and Louise Turpin have pleaded not guilty to torture, child abuse and other charges. They are being held on $12 million (Dh44 million) bail each.
The 911 call in January was the start of a new day for their 13 children, some of whom didn’t even understand the role of police officers when they showed up at the house in response to the call.
Officers freed two children who were shackled to beds and arrested the parents in a case that drew worldwide attention to severe neglect at the Perris, California, home that looked neatly kept from the outside.
Inside, police discovered something completely different.
The house reeked of human waste, and the evidence of starvation was obvious, with the oldest of 13 siblings weighing just 82 pounds. The children were locked up as punishment, denied food and toys and allowed to do little except write in journals, prosecutors said.
Children were isolated from each other and locked in different rooms in small groups. They did not have access to televisions or radios but expressed themselves in the hundreds of journals that investigators seized from the home where they were schooled.
After they were freed, the children, who ranged in age from two to 29, were immediately hospitalised and eventually released.
Their current whereabouts are unknown. A spokeswoman for the county’s social services department declined to discuss the case.
Jack Osborn, an attorney appointed to represent the seven adult children, said earlier this year they were “doing well”. They have participated in music therapy programmes, made crafts and world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma held a special concert for them. They communicated with their younger siblings over Skype.
“They’re happy, they are wanting to move forward, they do not want to dwell on the past,” he told the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper in February. “They want their identity to be now and going forward the things they hope to do, the dreams they have. They do not want people to think of them only as a possible victim, but as young adults setting off on their lives.”
Osborn did not respond to an email from The Associated Press this week.
Prosecutors planned to have sheriff’s deputies testify at Wednesday’s hearing, but none of the children was expected to take the stand.
David Turpin’s attorney, David Macher, said he was “looking forward to the hearing,” but declined to comment further. Louise Turpin’s lawyer did not immediately respond to request for comment.