A man who years ago attended school with the California father accused of abusing his 13 children and holding them captive tells PEOPLE he’s shocked to see news reports about someone he described as a “good, quiet person back then.”
Mike Gilbert attended Glenwood School and Princeton High School with David Turpin in Princeton, West Virginia, and last saw Turpin in 1979, he says.
Turpin, 57, and his 49-year-old wife, Louise, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to multiple charges after being accused of a litany of crimes against their kids — including keeping them prisoner inside their Perris, California, home, with some shackled to the furniture.
But Gilbert tells PEOPLE, “The boy that I knew, that’s not the monster that’s on TV,” adding that he’s “stunned” by the allegations.
He adds, “He was just a good, quiet person back then. I don’t know what happened to him, but something did.”
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Gilbert describes Turpin back then as “a homebody” who was never in trouble. He says Turpin was a member of the bible and chess clubs as well as the a cappella group.
“He was a quiet, very intelligent person,” Gilbert says. “Just, well actually sort of nerdy, and I don’t meant that in a bad way at all.”
He says Turpin “doesn’t look too different” from the way he did in high school, adding, “The hair is a little bit longer now.”
The Turpins were arrested after their 17-year-old daughter, who had allegedly been planning her escape for two years, climbed through one of the windows of their home early on Sunday and called 911 using a disconnected cell phone she had found, authorities have said.
At a news conference on Thursday, authorities alleged that the Turpin children, who range in age from 2 to 29, were allowed to shower no more than once a year and were regularly fed very little.
Authorities claimed the kids were restrained by ropes and, later, chains as a form of punishment.
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Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin said in a news release that malnutrition apparently stunted their growth. One of the kids, 12, has the weight of an average 7-year-old, he said. The 29-year-old female victim weighed just 82 lbs. when she was found.
In addition to the torture, abuse and false imprisonment charges against him, David Turpin has also been charged with one count of lewd act on a child under the age of 14 by force, fear or duress.
If convicted on all charges, David and Louise Turpin both face up to 94 years to life in prison.
Hestrin did not comment on potential motive when speaking to reporters on Thursday, but he said it appears “no one [outside the family] noticed what was happening.”
The alleged abuse, he said, intensified over time as the Turpins moved in 2010 to Murrieta, California, from Texas, and then to nearby Perris in 2014.
Prosecutor: ‘It Is a Horrible Case’
Speaking to reporters after their court hearing on Thursday, attorneys for David and Louise declined to comment beyond broad reactions about the allegations against them.
“It doesn’t get much more serious in terms of severity of the conduct being alleged and also the exposure in prison,” said Jeff Moore, Louise’s attorney.
He told PEOPLE, “The allegations carry life in state prison. In terms of possible sentences this is about as serious as it gets.”
Echoing that, David’s attorney, David Macher, said, “It is a very serious case. Anytime you are talking about a century of imprisonment is a very serious case.”
Prosecutor Kevin Beecham said, “It is a horrible case. It is unfortunate for everyone involved. Thank goodness they [the kids] are out now.”
If you have any information about this family or these alleged crimes, please call Senior District Attorney Investigator Wade D. Walsvick at 951-955-5400.