(Trends Wide) — Jordan Turpin was 17 when he found himself crawling out of a window in his family’s home, hoping to save the lives of his 12 siblings.
For two years, she had been planning her escape after decades of unspeakable physical and emotional violence inflicted by her parents at their Perris, California home. Equipped with nothing but an old cell phone she found in the house, Jordan ran out and called 911.
“I was always terrified that if I called the police or tried to escape, they would catch me, and then I knew I would die if they caught me,” Jordan, now 21, told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview this Friday. “But in the end, when I saw all my younger siblings, I knew that was what I had to do.”
During the chilling 911 call, she told police that the house the family lived in smelled so bad she could barely breathe, and thought she and her siblings might need to go to the doctor.
When the first police officer arrived, she immediately showed him the phone, filled with photos and videos she took of herself and her siblings to demonstrate the abuse.
Some of the brothers, who were between the ages of 2 and 29, had been found chained to beds with chains and padlocks. Some of the adults were so malnourished that they looked like young teenagers.
That morning, Jordan sat in the back of a police car and watched as his parents, David and Louise Turpin, were arrested. The two were each sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to 14 counts of torture, adult abuse, endangering children, false imprisonment and more.
Your first glimpses of freedom
When the police arrived at Turpin’s home and declared that they were conducting a wellness check, it was not long before they recognized the magnitude of the horrific reality of the children.
They discovered a house that reeked of human excrement, decaying garbage and moldy food, with all surfaces covered in garbage, reported ABC News on the 20/20 program titled “Escape From A House Of Horror.”
The children were found quietly sitting on dirty, flabby, fragile beds, covered in dirt, their arms covered in bruises.
A boy was found with his wrist and ankle chained to the bedpost; he had been in that state for weeks. Bodycam footage from that day shows the heavy chains that were worn on the children.
“The only word I know to call it is hell,” said Jennifer Turpin, the oldest of the children.
The 13 Turpin children were taken to a hospital, where their nurses and doctors began treating them for a long list of problems. Some were so emaciated they could barely walk, others suffered heart damage due to lack of nutrients. A preteen’s arm was the size of a 4.5-month-old baby, according to ABC.
The children had limited language skills and knew little about the outside world.
In addition to suffering from severe caloric malnutrition associated with muscle atrophy, several had cognitive impairment and “neuropathy, which is nerve damage, as a result of this extreme and prolonged physical abuse,” Hestrin said.
The first thing Jennifer Turpin did to celebrate was dance in the middle of her hospital room.
“The music was playing, I got up,” Jennifer, now 33, told Sawyer. “I made sure there was a bit of a clear floor and danced.”
There was also an exciting visit to a playground.
“I was so excited because I could smell the air, I could smell the grass. I thought, ‘How could heaven be better than this?” Jordan said. “Oh my gosh, this is so free, like, that’s life.”
“If something happened to me, at least I would die trying”
The parents had starved their 13 children to death, chaining them with padlocks and taunting them with cakes left on the counter in their home, authorities said. None of them had seen a doctor in more than four years, and none of them had visited a dentist.
Their only diet usually consisted of peanut butter sandwiches, the sisters told Sawyer. On rare occasions, they were given frozen food. And if they were still hungry and caught trying to eat anything else, they were brutally punished.
Sometimes the kids were so hungry they ate packets of ketchup and ice cubes.
“When you have parents who abuse their children at this level, and they are flesh and blood, this question arises: ‘How can a sane person do this?'” Hestrin said on the ABC News special. “And the truth of the matter is that sane people commit evil deeds all the time.”
The day before Jordan’s escape, she said she heard her parents say they were moving the family to Oklahoma. If they moved, Jordan said, there was “a very good chance” that some of them would have died.
“That was my only chance,” he continued. “I think we were so close to death so many times. If something happened to me, at least I died trying.”
Jordan remembered when he began to consider what his life might be like if he weren’t trapped. It was for singer Justin Bieber, he says, whose music and interviews spoke to him.
While her favorite Bieber songs are “As Long As You Love Me,” “Boyfriend” and “Baby,” it wasn’t just her music that inspired her to act.
“I started to realize that there is a different world,” Jordan said.
She enjoyed watching his interviews, learning new words from him as she realized the things they had in common. But one day, her mother caught her secretly watching a Bieber video and strangled her.
Free but still careless
Despite having made it through a life many couldn’t even begin to imagine, the Turpin children are still not completely sure.
ABC reported that some of the Turpin children were placed with a foster family that was arrested and charged with abusing several children in their care, including at least one Turpin child.
Another Turpin girl who is now an adult was placed in a home where her adoptive father told her that he understood why her parents were putting her in chains.
“They felt betrayed,” Melissa Donaldson, Director of Victim Services for Riverside County, told the program. “Did we see that children didn’t have to have a safe place to live or stay sometimes? Yes. Did they have enough food sometimes? They didn’t.”
“We have to fix it. You’d think this is the time to really get together and do everything we can, and we didn’t do it that way,” he continued.
At times, some of the Turpin children did not have access to housing and relied on transitional places for shelter, Donaldson said, adding that they also went to churches to find food.
“I really don’t have a way to get food right now,” Jordan said. It began when she was discharged from the extended foster care system in July, without any help with food, medical care or housing, ABC reported.
Unfortunately, his sister is not in a much better position.
“Well, where I live is not the best area,” Jennifer said.
Despite receiving $ 600,000 from generous strangers across the country, the Turpin children have had difficulty accessing the money and questions as to why county officials, who cited the court-ordered secrecy, have not been answered, reported ABC.
“They live in squalor. They live in neighborhoods riddled with crime. There is money for their education, they cannot access it,” Hestrin said.
“They have been victimized again by the system, and it is unimaginable to me that we can have the worst case of child abuse that I have ever seen, perhaps one of the worst in California history, and then we cannot provide them with necessities. basic, basic needs, “he added.