Neighbours of two parents charged with torturing their children and chaining them to beds have described the 13 siblings as acting “like they had never seen people before”.
David and Louise Turpin each face nine counts of torture and 10 of child endangerment after police found their offspring, aged two to 29, malnourished in their darkened and filthy home.
One “slightly emaciated” 17-year-old girl – who officers thought was 10 – raised the alarm on Sunday when she managed to escape and call 911 on a mobile phone she found in the house, in Perris, California.
When Riverside County deputies arrived at the suburban house they found a number of the children chained and padlocked to beds in “dark and foul-smelling surroundings”.
The couple, aged 57 and 49, are due in court on Thursday.
Neighbours said they were stunned by the arrests. Andrew Santillan, who lives around the corner, heard about the case from a friend.
“I had no idea this was going on,” he told the Press-Enterprise of Riverside. “I didn’t know there were kids in the house.”
Wendy Martinez, a 41-year-old housewife, said her only contact with the Turpins came as she passed the house at night in October.
Four children were installing turf in the garden while the mother watched from the door, and none responded when Ms Martinez said hello.
“They were very, like, afraid,” she said of the children. “Like they had never seen people before.”
But a worker at the office of the Turpins’ bankruptcy lawyer, Nancy Trahan, said they were friendly and “seems like very nice people”.
They spoke highly of their children, she said.
Images posted to David and Louise Turpin’s Facebook page showed the children had travelled; several images depicted them at an Elvis-themed wedding chapel in Las Vegas.
Impersonator Kent Ripley told Fox5 Vegas: “This is a sad day for everybody, especially the children, I mean they were sitting right around here three different times.
“They seemed to care about each other and care about the kids. They seemed to smile, the kids were smiling, they didn’t hide behind themselves.”
The Turpins travelled to Las Vegas to renew their wedding vows a number of times, the station reported.
Mr Turpin’s parents, James and Betty Turpin, said they had not visited their son’s family for four or five years, speaking only over the phone to the adults.
They told ABC7 they were “surprised and shocked” at the allegations against them.
The station reported the children’s grandparents as saying they were given “very strict homeschooling”. ”God called on” David and Louise to have so many children, they added.
Other neighbours asked themselves why they did not probe further about the quiet family.
Kimberly Milligan, 50, who lives opposite the Turpins, said she only had only seen the infant in the mother’s arms and three other children since she moved in two years ago, describing them as small and pale.
“Why don’t we ever see the kids?” Ms Milligan said. “In hindsight, we would have never thought this, but there were red flags. You never don’t hear or see nine kids.”
Two years ago, while walking around the neighbourhood admiring Christmas lights and decorations, Ms Milligan said she encountered three of the Turpin children and complimented them on the manger with a baby Jesus that they had outside their home.
She said the children froze as though by doing so they could become invisible.
“20-year-olds never act like that,” she said. “They didn’t want to have a social conversation.”
Additional reporting by agencies