Police hail courage of girl who escaped "horrific" home, told 911 of chained siblings

Last Updated Jan 16, 2018 5:01 PM EST

PERRIS, Calif. — Two days after David and Louise Turpin's 13 children, ages 2 to 29, were found locked inside their California home — three physically chained to furniture — police in Perris, California, lauded the 17-year-old girl who they say escaped from a window to alert authorities.

Riverside County Sherrif's Department Capt. Greg Fellows said at a Tuesday press conference that the malnourished girl called 911 from a deactivated cellphone and showed responding deputies photos of the home where her dozen siblings were found locked inside, some chained to beds.

"We do need to acknowledge the courage of that young girl who escaped," Fellows said.

Deputies soon went back to the girl's home, where they were struck by its unsanitary state, Fellows said.

"They noticed the children were malnourished, it was very dirty and the conditions were horrific," Fellows said, later adding that the children's mother did not know why deputies had come to her home. "It seemed that the mother was perplexed as to why we were at that location."

Corona Regional Medical Center CEO Mark Uffer said that many of the victims appear much younger than their ages.

"It's hard to think of them as adults when you see them because of malnutrition," said Uffer, who noted the siblings are "friendly" and "very cooperative."

Department of Public Social Services Director Susan von Zabern said the agency is seeking court authorization to provide oversight and care for the siblings, including the adults.

Dr. Sophia Grant, medical director of the child abuse unit at Riverside University Hospital System spoke during the press conference about how the hospital treats starvation cases.

"In cases of starvation we would have to slowly start to feed them to avoid any problems that re-feeding may cause," Grant said. "The long-term needs of these kids are going to be the psychological and psychiatric needs due to the prolonged starvation and maltreatment.

David and Louise Turpin are facing charges of torture and child endangerment in the case that shocked the small California city.  

"If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, malnourished and the injuries associated with that. I would call that torture," Fellows said.