(CNN)Jordan Turpin was 17 years old when she found herself crawling out of a window of her family’s home, hoping to save the lives of her 12 siblings.For two years, she had been planning her escape after decades of unspeakable emotional and physical violence inflicted by her parents in their Perris, California home. Equipped with nothing but an old cellphone she found in the house, Jordan ran out and called 911.”I was always terrified that if I called the cops or tried to escape, I would get caught, and then I knew I would die if I got caught,” Jordan, now 21, told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview Friday. “But at the end, when I saw all my younger siblings, I knew that’s what I had to do.”During the chilling 911 call, she told police the house the family lived in smelled so badly that she could barely breathe, and she thought she and her siblings might need to go to the doctor.When the first police officer arrived, she immediately showed him the phone, full of photos and videos she took of herself and her siblings to prove the abuse.
Her bold getaway in January 2018 led to the discovery of her siblings and uncovered what Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin described as one of the “worst, most aggravated child abuse cases” he has ever seen.
Some of the siblings, who ranged in age from 2 to 29, had been found shackled to beds with chains and padlocks. A few of the adults were so malnourished, they looked like young teenagers.That morning, Jordan sat in the back of a police car and watched as her parents, David and Louise Turpin, were arrested. The pair were each sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to 14 charges of torture, adult abuse, child endangerment, false imprisonment and more.
Their first glimpses of freedom
When police arrived at the Turpin home and declared they were conducting a welfare check, it didn’t take long for them to recognize the magnitude of the children’s horrifying reality.They discovered a home reeking of human excrement, decaying garbage, and molding food, with every surface covered in trash, ABC News reported in the 20/20 program titled, “Escape From A House Of Horror.” The children were found quietly sitting in filthy beds, limp, frail, caked in dirt, their arms covered in bruises.One child was found with his wrist and ankle chained to the bedpost; he had been in that state for weeks. Bodycam footage from that day show the heavy chains used on the children.”‘The only word I know to call it is hell,” said Jennifer Turpin, the eldest of the children.The 13 Turpin kids were taken to a hospital, where their nurses and doctors began treating them for a long list of issues. Some were so emaciated they could barely walk, others suffered from heart damage due to a lack of nutrients. One 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.
Besides suffering severe caloric malnutrition associated with muscle wasting, 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.”Music was playing, I got up,” Jennifer, now 33, told Sawyer. “I made sure there was a little bit of a floor cleared out and I danced.”There was also an exhilarating visit to a playground.”I was so excited because I could smell the air, I could smell the grass. I was like, ‘How could heaven be better than this’?” Jordan said. “Oh my gosh, this is so free, like, this is life.”