RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — In a plea to a police dispatcher to “help my sisters,” a 17-year-old girl in a childlike, quivering voice detailed years of abuse she and 12 siblings suffered in a house where she said they were shackled to beds, choked and went unbathed so long the stench was suffocating.
In the 911 call played in a California court Wednesday during a hearing to determine if her mother and father should face trial on child abuse charges, the girl said two younger sisters and a brother were chained to their beds and she couldn’t take it any longer.
“They will wake up at night and they will start crying and they wanted me to call somebody,” she said in a high-pitched voice. “I wanted to call y’all so y’all can help my sisters.”
David and Louise Turpin have pleaded not guilty in Riverside County Superior Court to torture, child abuse and other charges. They are being held on $12 million bail each.
Louise Turpin dabbed her eyes with a tissue as the recording of her daughter was played.
The 911 call in January was the start of a new day for the 13 Turpin offspring — ages 2 to 29 — who lived in such isolation that some didn’t even understand the role of police officers when they showed up at the house in response to the call, authorities said.
Officers freed the three children shackled to beds and arrested the parents in a case that drew worldwide attention to severe neglect that was hidden behind the neatly kept facade of their home in Perris, 70 miles (113 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles.
Inside, police said they discovered a house of horrors that reeked of human waste. Signs of starvation were obvious, with the oldest adult child weighing just 82 pounds, they said.
The children were locked up as punishment, beaten and denied food and things normal kids enjoy, like toys and games, authorities said. They were allowed to do little except write in journals that may corroborate the horrific stories they told investigators.
The girl planned her escape for two years and was terrified as she climbed out a window and ran to freedom, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Manuel Campos testified.
“She couldn’t even dial 911 because she was so scared that she was shaking,” he said.
When she called the dispatcher around the corner from her house, the girl wasn’t even sure what street she was on. The kids were rarely allowed to go outside, though they did trick-or-treat on Halloween and traveled as a family to Disneyland and Las Vegas.
“I don’t go out much so I don’t know anything about the streets or anything,” she said on the call and confirmed she was reading her address off a piece of paper with her mother’s name on it.
The girl said she hadn’t bathed in about a year and that the house was filthy.
“Sometimes I wake up and I can’t breathe because of how dirty the house is,” she said, adding she washed her hair and face in the sink.
Dirt was caked on the girl’s skin and she smelled unbathed, said Campos, who interviewed the girl later in the day.
The girl, who said she hadn’t finished first grade, had difficulty pronouncing some words and spoke like a child much younger than her age, Campos said. She referred to her parents as “Mother” and “Father” because it was “more like the Bible days,” he said.
The girl said when she was 12 and her father pulled down her pants and put her on his clothed lap in a recliner chair in the TV room. She didn’t like it and pushed away and pulled up her pants as she heard her mother coming upstairs.
“Her father told her she better not tell anybody what happened,” Campos said.
The family moved several times, including a stint in Texas, where the girl said they were left on their own for about four years, though her mother bought them food.
The children mostly were locked in their rooms and were only allowed to leave to eat, use the bathroom and brush their teeth.
There was no breakfast, and recently lunch and dinner had been combined into one meal that included peanut butter or bologna sandwiches, a frozen burrito and chips, she said. The girl told Campos she couldn’t stomach peanut butter any longer and it made her gag.
If they didn’t obey strict rules, they were slapped in the face or had their hair pulled, the girl told Campos.
About two years ago when the mother found out she had been watching a Justin Bieber video, the girl said her mother started choking her and asked, “do you want to die?” Campos said.
The girl said she didn’t want to die, but she feared she was about to as the choking continued.
“Yes you do, yes you do, you do, you want to die,” the mother said, according to Campos. “You want to die and go to hell.”
Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press Writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report from Los Angeles.