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Aunt of 13 children held captive by parents in California home speaks out

The sister of the mom who, along with her husband, were arrested after their children were found shackled, said she had no idea what was going on.
/ Source: TODAY

The sister of the woman who was arrested with her husband after their 13 malnourished and tortured children were found captive inside their California home is speaking out about the disturbing discovery that has shaken the nation.

“We are as hurt and shocked and angry and disappointed as everybody else,” Teresa Robinette told NBC News in an exclusive interview.

Robinette is the sister of Louise Turpin. She and her husband, David Turpin, owned the Perris, California, home where police discovered 13 children, some shackled and chained to furniture, living in squalid conditions.

Authorities say the Turpins' 17-year-old daughter escaped through a window and dialed 911 with a cell phone she grabbed before her escape. The call led police to discover a horrific scene full of children so malnourished that the seven oldest children, who were adults as old as 29, looked like young minors.

“If you can imagine, being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed. being malnourished, and injuries associated with that — I would call that torture,” Perris Police Chief Greg Fellows told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

All the children are now in the care of doctors, and their parents are in jail, with bail set for $9 million each.

Robinette said she had always asked her sister about the size of her children because they were so small.

“I always made comments to Louise, when I did talk to her about, ‘Gosh they're so skinny,’ and she would laugh it off. ‘Well, David's so tall and lanky. They’re going to be like him,’” she said.

Louise and David Turpin often renewed their wedding vows, surrounded by their children. (Only the faces of the adult children are showed here.)
Louise and David Turpin often renewed their wedding vows, surrounded by their children. (Only the faces of the adult children are showed here.) TODAY

Robinette said her sister left home at 16 to get married to David, who was eight years her senior. She said her sister and brother-in-law were very strict with their kids.

“They weren't allowed to date, or they didn't have a social life,” she said. “They weren't allowed to watch TV. They weren't allowed to talk on the phone, have friends over, stuff like that. Normal things that kids do.”

The Turpins renewed their wedding vows often, each time surrounded by all of their children, she said.

Police arrested the parents after interviewing them. The couple was booked on charges of torture and child endangerment. They face a Thursday court date.

David Turpin ran a private school out of his home, according to public records. But the California Department of Education says it doesn’t have the authority to inspect private schools, which could explain why no state officials ever visited the home.