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13 siblings held captive by California couple plotted escape for 2 years, official says

Last Updated Jan 18, 2018 7:56 PM EST

The 17-year-old girl who officials said escaped captivity from her parents' house in Southern California over the weekend spent more than two years working on the plan with her siblings, a prosecutor said Thursday. When the teen fled the house on Sunday, one of her 12 siblings accompanied her but became frightened and went back into the house in Perris, California, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said at a press conference.

Parents David Allen Turpin, 56, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, have been charged with committing years of torture and abuse against the 13 malnourished children and could face up to life in prison. David Turpin was additionally charged with performing a lewd act on a child under age 14. Both pleaded not guilty to all counts in a court appearance Thursday afternoon.

The victims range in age from 2 to 29. Prosecutors filed charges of torture, child abuse, dependent adult abuse and false imprisonment. The charges involve acts dating to 2010. The torture and false imprisonment charges do not include the 2-year-old, Hestrin said, adding that apparently the toddler was getting enough to eat.

Authorities say the situation came to light early Sunday when the 17-year-old girl climbed out a window of their home, called 911 and showed deputies photos that substantiated her story. Deputies found some of the children chained to furniture when they entered.

Hestrin said that over the years the siblings were first tied up with ropes. Chains and padlocks were then used when one of the siblings learned how to get out of the ropes.

"One victim at one point was tied up and hogtied," Hestrin said. "These punishments would last for weeks or even months at a time."

When officers arrived at the house on Sunday, evidence suggests that three of the siblings were in chains, Hestrin said. The couple was able to get two of the siblings out of their chains before officers went inside.

"An 11- and 14-year-old were unchained as the police stood at the door while a 22-year-old remained chained to a bed when the police entered the home," Hestrin said.

The couple would also frequently beat and strangle the siblings as punishment, he said.

"One of the reasons for the punishments were if the children were found to wash their hands above the wrist area, they were accused of playing in the water, and they would be chained up," Hestrin said.

None of the siblings were allowed to shower more than once a year, he said.

All of the siblings were found to be severely malnourished, Hestrin said. A 29-year-old woman weighs 82 pounds, and a 12-year-old weighs as much as an average 7-year-old. Several have cognitive impairment and nerve damage.

None of the siblings had seen a doctor in more than four years, and none had ever seen a dentist, Hestrin said. When authorities asked the 17-year-old whether there were any pills or medication inside the house, she didn't know what those were.

Even though the house was listed as a private school, the siblings didn't know basic details about modern society, Hestrin said. Many didn't know what a police officer was.

However, at least one of the older siblings attended classes at a local college. Louise Turpin would accompany him, wait outside the classroom and then take him home, Hestrin said.

The couple would apparently buy food for themselves and then let the siblings look at it but not eat it, he said.

"They would buy food, including pies, apple pies, pumpkin pies, leave it on the counter, let the children look at it but not eat the food," Hestrin said.

Authorities were examining hundreds of journals found at the house, he said. Writing was basically the only activity available to the siblings. They weren't allowed to have toys, but many toys were found inside the house still in their original packaging.