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After years of horrific beatings, starvation and unspeakable abuse at the hands of her parents, Louise and David Turpin, the couple’s daughter, Jordan Turpin, knew she had finally found freedom when she set foot in a park with two of her siblings.
Although the moment may have seemed routine for many, for Jordan—who had recently made the harrowing call to 911 that freed her siblings from the house of horrors—it was the first time she felt carefree and liberated from her parent’s abuse.
“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? Oh my gosh, this is so free. This is life,” Jordan told Diane Sawyer in a new interview for ABC’s “20/20.”
Jennifer and her sister Jordan recounted the years of abuse in excruciating detail, describing how their parents had starved them, shackled them with chains to their beds leaving them filthy and malnourished in home filled with trash, even once leaving the children locked in a trailer for years, returning only once a week to deliver them meager helpings of food—if they remembered at all.
Jennifer, now 33, said her parents—who are now behind bars serving 25 years to life for the horrific abuse—often justified the abuse to their 13 children by quoting the Bible.
“They loved to point to things in Deuteronomy, saying that, ‘We have the right to do this to you.’…that they had the right to even kill us if we didn’t listen,” she said.
Their reign of terror finally ended on Jan. 14, 2018 when Jordan, then 17 years old, escaped through a window of the family’s Perris, California home and called 911 using a deactivated cell phone after planning the escape for two years.
“They abuse us, and my two little sisters right now are chained up,” Jordan told the operator, according to The New York Post. “They chain us up if we do things we’re not supposed to.”
Her parents were arrested less than two hours later and the 13 children were rescued from a life of abuse.
Jordan told “20/20” she knew the move had been risky, but after overhearing that her parents planned to move the family to Oklahoma the next day, she knew it was her only chance to save her young siblings.
“I knew I would die if I got caught,” the now 21-year-old said. “I think it was us coming so close to death so many times. If something happened to me, at least I died trying.”
Jennifer’s earliest memories with her parents are of the young family living in a nice neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas, where her father worked as an electrical engineer and her mother stayed home.
Yet the home soon filled up with trash and dirt and her mother began to have erratic moods—leaving young Jennifer in a constant state of fear.
“I never knew which side I was going to get of her,” she told Sawyer. “If I was going to ask her a question, [is] she going to call me stupid or something … and then yank me across the floor or [is] she going to be nice and answer my question.”
She regularly attended public school from first until third grade, but even then, Jennifer remembers having to go to school without bathing and being forced to wear the same dirty clothes over and over.
“They called me skinny bones and acted like they didn’t want to be around me,” she said of her fellow classmates. “I probably smelled. But I didn’t realize at the time I smelled but that stench clings to you … because we would literally live in houses piled with trash.”
Jennifer’s parents pulled her out of school in the third grade and although her parents would later file paperwork claiming they were home schooling their children, the children say they never received any formal education and had to work together to try to share what they knew.
The family moved to Rio Vista, Texas in 1999 and the abuse continued. Jennifer recalled her father beating them with a belt or sticks until they bled and remembers her mother threw one of her siblings down the stairs after she was caught in her mother’s room.
“I was afraid to do one little thing wrong,” Jennifer said. “If I did one little thing wrong, I was going to be beaten … until I bled.”
In 2007, Jennifer said her parents moved 10 of their children into a trailer tucked deep into the Texas property and drove away with only the two youngest babies in tow. Her parents only returned about once a week to drop off food, but the children were often left hungry and alone.
“I would try to stretch it out and make sure that we at least had stuff to eat each day of the week,” Jennifer, who was then about 18 years old, remembered.
Jordan, who was just 6 at the time, told “20/20” that there “was a lot of starving” during her early life.
“I would have to figure out how to eat,” she remembered. “I would either eat ketchup or mustard or ice.”
Even without their parents on the property, Jennifer said the older children were left with a flip phone and told they had to follow their parents’ “instructions,” including placing children who disobeyed into locked dog cages in the trailer.
“You’re torn, you don’t know what to do,” she said. “I was on the brink of suicide.”
Once, Jennifer managed to escape and headed to town where she planned to get a job and an apartment, but with a limited education, she was quickly overwhelmed and returned home, ABC News reports.
The family moved to California in 2010, but the family’s home life continued to be tumultuous with Louise often racking up large credit card debt and the parents often chaining their children to their beds.
Jordan sought solace in Justin Bieber and remembers secretly watching the pop star’s music videos and interviews from an old smart phone her parents didn’t know she had.
“I don’t know where we would be if we didn’t watch Justin Bieber,” she said. “I started realizing that there is a different whole world out there. … I wanted to experience that.”
When one of her siblings told her mother she was watching the videos, Jordan said her mother attacked her and started to choke her.
“I thought I was going to die that day,” she said. “After that whole day happened, I kept having nightmares that … she was going to kill me.”
Jordan began planning her escape and two years later—armed with advice Jennifer had given her about bringing proof of the abuse through photos stashed away on the phone—she snuck out the window and found her way to freedom.
Louise and David later pleaded guilty to charges that included torture and false imprisonment. At the time of their arrest, their 13 children had ranged in age from 2 to 29 years old. They were both sentenced to life in prison.
At the couple’s sentencing hearing in 2019, Louise apologized to her children for the harm she had caused.
“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to hurt my children,” she said according to CNN. “I love them more than they could ever imagine.”
David echoed his wife’s sentiments and said in a statement read by his attorney that he hoped his children found success in life.
“I thank God for all of my children,” he said.
ABC News’s “20/20” special event on the Turpins airs Friday at 9 p.m. ET. For more on the case, watch Oxygen's "The Turpin 13: Family Secrets Exposed."
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