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Parents of 13 Malnourished and Shackled Children Fooled Family

Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

It's easy to fool people into thinking you live a charmed life. These days, all it takes is a Wi-Fi connection and a couple of selfies, but how did Perris, California, parents David and Louise Turpin, who were arrested January 14 on charges of torture and child endangerment, trick friends and family into believing that their 13 kids were happy and safe for so long?

The couple, as reported by CNN, shared numerous photos of their extended family on social media. Their children, despite their various ages, wore identical clothing (based on gender) and similar haircuts.

From an outsider's perspective, the family appeared to be loving and peaceful, smiling as they celebrated birthdays, renewed wedding vows and visited Disneyland together. But last Sunday, when one of the daughters escaped from the home and contacted police, a horrifying truth was revealed.

According to police, the couple's 17-year-old daughter climbed out of a window and called 911 from a deactivated cell phone, telling authorities that her parents were holding her and 12 of her siblings captive. She also had photos on hand to back up her claim.

Photograph by Riverside County Sheriff's Department

Despite the young girl's disturbing evidence, Capt. Greg Fellows from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department told reporters that her mother seemed "perplexed as to why" authorities came to her home.

The police then recovered 12 victims who "appeared malnourished and very dirty." Several of the kids were found shackled to their beds "in dark and foul-smelling surroundings" and, although all resembled small children, officers later learned that only six of them were under the age of 18. The children range in age from 2 to 29 years old.

So, how is it that a family of 15 could slip through the cracks of law enforcement and child protective services for so long?

"I wish I could come to you with information that would explain why this happened, but we do need to acknowledge the courage of the young girl who escaped from that residence to bring attention so they can get the help they so need," Fellows said.

Betty Turpin, the kids' grandmother, defended the parents to CNN, saying they enjoyed traveling together.

"This is a highly respectable family," she told the news outlet.

Louise's sister Teresa Robinette told NBC that she was surprised by what she was learning and "heartbroken" for her nieces and nephews.

"I can't even say the words to you that I would like to say to her," she told NBC. "I'm so angry inside. I'm mad."

Neighbors told KABC News that they never saw any of the younger kids. Those they did see, who stepped outside on occasion to work on the lawn, would head back in together. They were described as being "very pale-skinned, almost like they'd never seen the sun."

Shelli Vinyard, a neighbor of the Turpins' previous home in Fort Worth, Texas, says she called their place "the compound."

"I thought it was like a religious compound over there," she said. The family home-schooled their children and "kept them away from anybody."

The new owners, who purchased the Turpin's foreclosed home in Fort Worth said the condition of the house was so bad they took pictures. They told reporters that windows were broken out and boarded up, and that waste covered the carpet and walls. There were also scratches found on the back of doors. But wait, the story gets worse.

Not only did David Turpin torture and abuse his 13 children, but he did so as "the principal" of Sandcastle Day School, an educational facility he has been reportedly running out of his home since March 2011.

Though the state education department maintains they do not have the authority to monitor or inspect private schools, their spokesman, Scott Roark, says, "We are sickened by this tragedy and relieved the children are now safe and authorities are investigating."

David and Louise Turpin have a court hearing scheduled for Thursday. Their bail was set at $9 million each.

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