Since the horrific story broke earlier this month about the 13 children who were imprisoned, malnourished and abused by their parents, people who know the family have been re-examining their interactions with the Turpins. In a heart-rending Facebook post, a former classmate of the oldest Turpin sibling revealed that while the now 29-year-old was facing filthy conditions at home, she was also facing the taunts and jeers of kids in elementary school. She was the grade's designated "cootie kid." She was the kid no one wanted to be caught talking to.
"She was a frail girl, had pin-straight hair with bangs, and often wore the same purple outfit. She was often made fun of by the other third graders because her clothes would sometimes look as though they had been dragged through mud, which she would also smell like on most days. I distinctly remember my entire third grade class scoffing at her one day because our teacher had asked her to discard a scrunchy she had used to tie her hair out of a discarded tin foil wrapper from an old Hershey's bar," wrote Taha Muntajibuddin, who attended kindergarten through third grade with her in Fort Worth, Texas.
Muntajibuddin said that after reading about the Turpin children, who range in age from 2 to 29 and lived in a house of horrors, he felt "an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame."
Another classmate of Turpin, Stephanie Hernandez, told the Associated Press she remembers "someone kind of slung her around like a rag doll." Turpin was bullied, quiet and always wore dirt-stained jeans that were too small.
After the 17-year-old daughter of David and Louise Turpin escaped earlier this month and called 911, authorities found the Turpin children shackled to their beds. Turns out, the malnourished kids were allowed one meal a day and one shower a year but were also taunted with pies left on the counter. They had a strict schedule, sleeping during the day and staying awake at night, and at times were not allowed to use the restroom when they were chained.
"Of course, none of us (classmates) are responsible for the events that ensued, but you can't help but feel rotten when the classmate your peers made fun of for 'smelling like poop' quite literally had to sit in her own waste because she was chained to her bed. It is nothing but sobering to know that the person who sat across from you at the lunch table went home to squalor and filth while you went home to a warm meal and a bedtime story," Muntajibuddin reflected.
His account reminds us that bullying, even standing by and doing nothing, shouldn't be overlooked. Parents need to communicate and educate children about different forms of bullying from a young age. Glossing over deeper conversations means you may miss out on signs that your kid is being bulled—or is the bully.
"The resounding lesson here is a simple one, something that we're taught from the very beginning: Be nice. Teach your children to be nice. If you see someone that's isolated, befriend them. If you see someone that's marginalized, befriend them. If you see someone that's different, befriend them," Muntajibuddin wrote. "We can never completely put ourselves in others' shoes nor can we completely understand the circumstances that one is brought up in, but a simple act of kindness and acceptance may be the ray of hope that that person needs."