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Mother in California House of Horrors Was ‘Perplexed’ When Police Showed Up, Officials Say

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The California mother of 13 children who were allegedly tortured, starved or shackled inside a house of horrors was “perplexed” when investigators paid a visit to their home this week, officials said Tuesday.

Authorities said Louise Turpin, the 49-year-old biological mother of all 13 children, appeared baffled about why authorities were inside her Perris, Calif., home, where they allegedly found at least three children bound to their beds with chains and padlocks Sunday.

“The mother was perplexed as to why we were at that residence,” Capt. Greg Fellows of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said at a news conference.

Authorities also found the couple’s 13 children, between the ages of 2 and 29, living in “dark and foul-smelling” conditions after their 17-year-old daughter escaped and called 911, claiming her parents were holding her siblings captive. The children all appeared “malnourished and very dirty,” the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

“I would call that torture,” Fellows said Tuesday, calling the living conditions “horrific.”

It’s unclear how long the children were forced to live under those conditions, but officials said they believe it was for a “prolonged period of time.” Officials said the family had lived in Perris, Calif., since 2014, and their children were home-schooled. The family may have previously lived in Texas.

The county’s Department of Public Social Services said it would be fighting in court to gain oversight of at least the younger children. Of the 13 siblings, seven are adults. Officials said the adults are recovering together at a hospital, where they are “hopeful that life will get better.”

The sheriff’s office had no previous calls to the Turpins’ home before Sunday.

Authorities said there are so far no indications that any of the children were sexually abused or that the parents suffered from any mental illnesses.

Louise Turpin and her 57-year-old husband David Turpin could face torture and child endangerment charges. They are both being held on $9 million bail. It’s unclear if attorneys are representing either of them.

Earlier Tuesday, David Turpin’s mother Betty Turpin told TIME she was in “total shock” to learn of her son’s arrest. She defended him as a “very likable” person and said she was waiting for more evidence in the case.

“We don’t believe anything until we find definite proof,” she said.

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