Siblings held captive survived on peanut butter sandwiches
Gina Ferazzi-Pool/Getty Images(PERRIS, Calif.) — When the Turpin siblings were rescued from their so-called house of horrors in Southern California two months ago, many wondered how the 13 brothers and sisters would adjust to their newfound freedom, but the hospital where they were nursed back to health said they seemed to be adjusting to the outside world.
“I think they really thrived on the attention from the nurses and the staff,” Mark Uffer, chief executive officer of Corona Regional Medical Center, told ABC News. “When they saw certain nurses, they would run to them, literally, and surround them, and it was quite an experience. A little bit overwhelming when you first experienced it.”
“They were afraid the anything that they got was going to be taken away … anything that they got, there was always a question — at least from one or two of them — ‘Is anybody going to take my things?’” he added.
Uffer, who spent most of the interview trying to fight back tears, said the siblings came to the hospital bereft of everything: They’d never owned shoes, they didn’t know how to brush their teeth and the nursing staff had to teach them how to wash themselves.
“What initially started out as patients coming in through the emergency room turned into sort of a higher calling for all of us,” he said. “We essentially adopted them. We recognized that they were in a bad place when they came here … we just took a personal interest in them.”
ABC News has interviewed several people who’ve spent time with the siblings, whose lives until recently had been lived in near-complete isolation. Their naiveté and complete lack of guile makes them utterly charming, according to those who’ve interacted with them.
The siblings had sustained themselves mostly on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches, Uffer said. In fact they had eaten so much much of it that they are now disgusted by the mere sight of peanut butter.
“I was told that they had peanut butter on bread and maybe TV dinners, but that’s it,” he said, adding that his staff once offered them peanut butter but the siblings declined.
Uffer said the hospital’s staff went out and purchased necessities for them and even introduced them to foods like tomatoes and berries. He also recalled the “heartwarming” moment when he allowed them to play with his guitar.
“They had never saw one before, maybe on television or in pictures, but to actually physically hold a guitar — that was heartwarming to watch them,” Uffer said. “They didn’t know what to do with it, but they liked the sounds it made.”
The young adults, ages 18 to 29, were taken to an undisclosed rural house by their attorney and a public guardian on Thursday, a sign that they may be ready for the next phase of their recovery, but Uffer said it could take years before they’re ready to live on their own.
“They have to learn basic skills — shopping, cooking, laundry, things that we all take for granted,” he said. “I don’t think they have those basic skills yet. It’s going to take some work.”
David and Louise Turpin, the siblings’ parents, are accused of shackling and starving them routinely, authorities said. The victims weren’t released from their chains even to go to the bathroom, and would be punished for behaviors like washing above their wrists by being hogtied or shackled to a bed, sometimes for months at a time, prosecutors said.
The parents each face dozens of counts of torture, false imprisonment and child endangerment. They were arrested in January after the couple’s 17-year-old daughter scrambled out of their home’s front window, called 911, and showed police pictures of her siblings in shackles, District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. The teen had somehow accessed the internet in the weeks before her harrowing escape.
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