The sister of a woman, who along with her husband faces allegations of keeping their 13 children captive in their California home, says her nieces and nephews faced an extremely strict existence.
On the "Today" show Wednesday, Teresa Robinette, whose sister, Louise Anna Turpin, and brother-in-law, David Allen Turpin, have been jailed and could face charges of torture and child endangerment, said the children didn't live a normal life.
"They weren’t allowed to date. They didn’t have a social life. They weren’t allowed to watch TV. They weren’t allowed to talk on the phone or have friends over, the normal stuff that kids do," Robinette said.
Turpin and Robinette's younger brother, Billy Lambert, said he barely knows Louise and David because the couple eloped and lost touch with the family before he was born. Louise Turpin was 16 years old at the time, he said.
The siblings said they were distraught to learn that their 13 nieces and nephews were living in squalor, and physically tortured. Robinette said she voiced her concerns about the children to her sister but was told their father was tall and lanky and they'd grow up to be like him.
"We are as hurt, and as shocked, and as angry, and disappointed as everybody else," Robinette said.
"If we knew, we would have fixed the situation," Lambert added. "People are assuming that we knew. We had no idea."
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Robinette lives in Cleveland, Tennessee, and noted that they couldn't do anything to help their nieces and nephews from "across the U.S."
Officials said the children, ranging in age from 2 to 29, were so malnourished the older ones looked like children.
Authorities said they uncovered the abuse when a 17-year-old girl jumped out of a window, called 911 and led police to Southern California home. She was so malnourished, investigators initially thought she was 10 years old.
Captain Greg Fellows of the Riverside County Sheriff's Office said it was unclear what prompted the teen to flee, but he noted her mother "was perplexed" when deputies arrived at the family's door.
The Turpins moved to Perris in 2014, records show. David Turpin had been home schooling his children at the residence, which he had gotten state approval to do so, California records show. The private school, Sandcastle Day School, had an enrollment of six in the 2016-17 school year, with one student each in the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades.
Full-time private schools must register with the state to record their students' exemption from mandatory attendance at public schools, but the education department lacks the authority to monitor, inspect or oversee private schools, Ainsworth said.
They are, however, subject to an annual inspection by the state or local fire marshal. Representatives for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Riverside County Fire Department and the Perris Fire Department did not immediately say whether the Turpins' home was ever inspected.
Fellows said officials had no idea anything was happening inside the home and authorities had "no call history at this address." Social workers never visited the home either, said Susan von Zabern, director of the county Department of Public Social Services.
"This was the first opportunity to intervene," von Zabern said.