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Parents Who Starved and Shackled Children Sentenced to Life Will Lester/The Orange County Register via AP
Will Lester/The Orange County Register via AP

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A California couple who for years starved a dozen of their children and kept some shackled to beds were sentenced Friday to life in prison, ending a shocking case that revealed a house of horrors hidden behind a veneer of suburban normalcy.

The conditions inside David and Louise Turpin’s home in suburban Los Angeles came to light only after one of their daughters fled and pleaded for help to a 911 operator. The parents pleaded guilty in February to neglect and abuse.

The sentencing was preceded by the first public statements from some of the children, who alternately spoke of love for their parents and of what they had suffered, as the couple wiped away tears. None of the children was publicly identified.

Will Lester/The Orange County Register via AP

One of the adult children walked into court already in tears, holding hands with a prosecutor. “Life may have been bad, but it made me strong. I fought to become the person that I am. I saw my dad change my mom. They almost changed me, but I realized what was happening. … I’m a fighter. I’m strong and I’m shooting through life like a rocket,” a daughter said.

The Turpins will be eligible for parole after 25 years.

“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to hurt my children. I love my children so much,” Louise Turpin said. One of the children asked for a lighter sentence for the parents because “they believed everything they did was to protect us.” The home in a middle-class section of Perris, a small city about 60 miles (96 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, appeared to be neatly kept, and neighbors rarely saw the kids outside, but nothing triggered suspicion.

But when deputies arrived, they were shocked to find a 22-year-old son chained to a bed and two girls who had just been set free from shackles. Most of the 13 children — who ranged in age from 2 to 29 — were severely underweight and had not bathed for months. The house was covered in filth and filled with the stench of human waste.

The children said they were beaten, caged and shackled if they did not obey their parents. David Turpin, 57, had been an engineer for Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Louise Turpin, 50, was listed as a housewife in a 2011 bankruptcy filing. The teenage daughter escaped by jumping from a window. After a lifetime living in isolation, the 17-year-old did not know her address, the month of the year or what the word “medication” meant.

But she knew enough to punch 911 into a barely workable cellphone and began describing years of horrific abuse to a police dispatcher. Deputies testified that the children said they were allowed to shower only once a year. They were mainly kept in their rooms except for meals, which had been reduced from three to one per day, a combination of lunch and dinner.

Will Lester/The Orange County Register via AP, Pool

The 17-year-old complained that she could no longer stomach peanut butter sandwiches — they made her gag. The children were not allowed to play like normal children. Other than an occasional family trip to Las Vegas or Disneyland, they rarely left home. They slept during the day and were active a few hours at night.

Although the couple filed paperwork with the state to homeschool their children, learning was limited. The oldest daughter only completed third grade. “We don’t really do school. I haven’t finished first grade,” the 17-year-old said, according to Deputy Manuel Campos. Investigators found that the couple’s toddler had not been abused, but all of the children were hospitalized.

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