She used a disabled mobile phone to call emergency services on Sunday morning after sneaking out of a window at her parent’s house in California.
It was just after 6am and “in her mind, she was risking her life,” one police source told The Mirror.
The responding police officer thought she was a girl, 10-years-old at most. In fact, she is 17 and led him to the house where she and her 12 siblings had been held captive by their parents, starving, filthy and in “horrific” conditions.
David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were arrested that morning and each charged with nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment. Police found the girl’s – woman’s – siblings starved and “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings”.
“The victims appeared to be malnourished and very dirty,” the statement from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office said, AAP reports.
Now, as the world is reeling from such a heinous and incomprehensible scene, a disturbing history of potential abuse is emerging. Insight from extended family and neighbours details the Turpin’s cult-like possessiveness over their children, and implies a pattern of abuse that will take years for these children to recover from.
But first, the 17-year-old girl and the conditions she survived.
The day of the rescue
“We do need to acknowledge the courage of the young girl who escaped from that residence to bring attention so they could get the help that they so needed,” Captain Greg Fellows of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department told reporters at a Tuesday news conference, The Washington Post reports.
“If you can imagine being 17-years-old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished and the injuries associated with that — I would call that torture.”
After being given food and water, the siblings – aged between two and 29 – were taken to hospital. The seven eldest siblings were still undergoing treatment at the time of Tuesday’s news conference and a spokesperson from the Department of Public Social Services said officials are seeking authorisation to provide care for the siblings – including the adults, if needed.
According to Fellows, the Turpin parents were “perplexed” when the police barged in on Sunday morning, and “unable to immediately provide a logical reason” why their children were chained up.
One neighbour, who chose to remain anonymous, told The Mirror Louise Turpin was “coughing and acting weird” when talking to police.