I distinctly remember back in January 2018, when I first heard the horrific story of the Turpin family. Like so many other people who became aware of this story, I wondered how in the world this family remained under the radar for as long as they had, particularly given how connected everyone is by the Internet. Now, having watched Diane Sawyer’s 20/20 interview with sisters, Jordan and Jennifer Turpin, I have more of an idea of what happened. I am astonished by the sisters’ strength and resilience, as well as their attitudes, given everything that happened to them.
Who are the Turpins and why did Diane Sawyer interview two of them?
David and Louise Turpin lived in Perris, California with their thirteen malnourished children. Their home was filthy, and the children lived as prisoners, sometimes even chained to their beds. On January 14, 2018, 17 year old Jordan Turpin slipped out of an open window in her parents’ house. She knew she had to act fast, since her parents had announced that they were moving to Oklahoma, and everyone would be in chains. Several of Jordan’s siblings were so debilitated by malnutrition that the move might kill them.
Jordan had her brother’s cell phone. It didn’t have service, but was capable of making emergency phone calls. She called 911, even though she was terrified. She told the dispatcher about the filthy house she lived in, and how two of her little sisters were chained to their beds. Even though Jordan had never spoken to a stranger before, and had no concept of addresses, or other aspects of everyday life that most people learn in early childhood, she bravely spoke to a stranger who would help her save herself and her siblings. The dispatcher sent a deputy to meet Jordan. She told him her story, and showed him photos she took of her sisters in chains. He called for backup, and later that morning, the police raided the Turpin home. That was the day Jordan and her twelve siblings were finally set free, although sadly, some of the older children are still struggling as they try to launch into normal life.
My thoughts on the 20/20 interview…
I was really impressed by both of the Turpin sisters who were interviewed. Jordan Turpin, who is now 21 years old, is still very tiny, and could pass for a much younger person. In spite of being kept out of the world her entire life, she’s friendly and seems optimistic about her future. She finished high school in just one year, and is now taking college courses. Through school, she has gotten access to food stamps and housing. Justin Bieber, of all people, is responsible for teaching Jordan some new vocabulary. So is Miley Cyrus.
Jennifer Turpin, who is about 32 years old, is now in training to be a restaurant manager. She also looks very young, although she’s obviously more mature than Jordan is. Jennifer is the one child who had the benefit of attending school. She said that kids in school avoided her, and admitted it was probably because she was dirty and smelled bad. It surprises me that her teachers didn’t find Jennifer’s appearance concerning, but I also know that many people hesitate to get involved when it comes to abusive situations.
One of the brothers, Joshua Turpin, did not want to appear on camera, but did send a video diary to 20/20, shedding some light on his perspective of what happened to him and his siblings. All of the shots including him were shown from the back, with beautiful California mountains and a white picket fence as a backdrop.
At the end of the program, 20/20 revealed that some of the children were re-victimized in foster care. One child was told by a foster parent that they could understand why David and Lousie Turpin had chained them. To be sure, it is probably very challenging taking care of children who have had such a horrifying and abusive upbringing. However, regardless of the challenges the foster parents have faced, there is no excuse for telling a child that they deserve to be chained, especially a child whose parents actually resorted to chaining them.
I know there are good foster parents out there, but I’ve also read and heard some accounts of foster parents who aren’t much better than natural parents and are only seeking money. Unfortunately, it sounds like some of the Turpin children have landed with such people. It also sounds like at least one of their caseworkers was simply collecting paychecks, rather than doing her job. I am glad she doesn’t work with the agency anymore, although it sounds like there are a number of officials who are supposed to be helping the Turpin and haven’t done much for them. Hopefully, the 20/20 interview will light a fire under them.
I wanted to watch this special when it aired, but being in Germany makes it difficult to see programs from the United States that get a lot of buzz. Fortunately, ABC News has uploaded the show, and some kind YouTuber actually uploaded the whole show without any breaks.
I really hope this show helps the Turpin kids. Although a lot of money was raised for them by GoFundMe, they’ve been unable to access it. And no matter what, they all have to somehow recover from their delayed access to the world. These are people who never got to go to school and learned from watching videos on secret cell phones. They never learned basic life skills as children. They’re clearly very bright and want to learn, but now they’re adults who somehow have to sink or swim. That seems wrong to me.
When this case was fresh, I wrote about it a few times on the Blogspot version of this blog. I will probably repost some of my early blog entries about the Turpins. I might even do it today, if the mood strikes. The weather is yucky, and COVID-19 is on the rise, so I’ll probably have time.