California couple may have used food to control starving children

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The California couple accused of beating, shackling and abusing their 13 children may have used starvation as a weapon to control them, experts say, and the malnourishment would likely cause lifelong physical and mental issues for the siblings.

The parents, who were charged with multiple counts of torture, child abuse and false imprisonment, gave little food to their children, ranging in age from two to 29 years old, according to prosecutors, who said the abuse may have gone on for years. The couple even taunted their offspring by displaying desserts that they were not allowed to eat.

Although their motives were still unclear, the couple may have denied the children food as a way to weaken them and assert power. The children were also shackled and beaten for perceived minor infractions, authorities said.

The 17-year-old girl who escaped from the family's house in Perris, California this week to call the police and reveal the alleged abuse, was so emaciated she appeared to be only 10, authorities said.

RELATED: Parents charged after 13 siblings found chained in home

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David and Louise Turpin charged with holding 13 children captive
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David and Louise Turpin charged with holding 13 children captive
A combination photo of David Allen Turpin (L) and Louise Ann Turpin as they appear in booking photos provided by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department in Riverside County, California, U.S., January 15, 2018. Riverside County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY
Prosecutors are moving to legally separate David and Louise Turpin from the 13 children they allegedly held captive… https://t.co/Ri047Hiv0m
Vehicles remain in the driveway of 160 Muir Woods Road from where authorities rescued 13 malnourished children held captive by their parents in Perris, California. on January 16, 2018. David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin have been arrested for torture after authorities said on January 15, 2018, their 13 children were held captive in their home, with some shackled to beds in the dark. Authorities set bail at $9 million for the parents after a 17-year-old girl escaped the house on Sunday and called 911 using a cellphone found inside. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
David and Louise Turpin with attorneys David Macher (R) and Jeff Moore (2nd L) are seen during their court arraignment in Riverside, California on January 18, 2018. The California couple who held their 13 malnourished children captive in a suburban home were charged Thursday with multiple counts of torture and child abuse as prosecutors said the youngsters had been shackled even to go to the bathroom. Turpin, 57, and his wife, 49, were hit with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependent adult at a court hearing in the city of Riverside. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
PERRIS, CA - JANUARY 15: Neighbors stand outside a home (not pictured) where a couple was arrested after police discovered that 13 people had been held captive in filthy conditions with some shackled to beds with chains and padlocks, January 15, 2018 in Perris California. David Allen Turpin and his wife Louise Anna Turpin were charged with torture and child endangerment after a 17 year old escaped the residence and contacted the police. 12 others, ages ranging from 2 to 29, were discovered emaciated and malnourished in the home. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
New media gather outside the home of David Allen and Louise Anna Turpin in Perris, California, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A decoration hangs in the window of the home of David Allen and Louise Anna Turpin in Perris, California, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Louise Turpin is seen with attorney Jeff Moore during her court arraignment in Riverside, California on January 18, 2018. The California couple who held their 13 malnourished children captive in a suburban home were charged Thursday with multiple counts of torture and child abuse as prosecutors said the youngsters had been shackled even to go to the bathroom. David Turpin, 57, and his wife, 49, were hit with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependent adult at a court hearing in the city of Riverside. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Terry PIERSON (Photo credit should read TERRY PIERSON/AFP/Getty Images)
David Turpin appears in court for his arraignment in Riverside, California, U.S. January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terry Pierson/Pool
Neighborhood resident Rosenberg Salgado steps out of his vehicle with a photo of his neice Elizabeth Laguna, who went missing nearly three years ago, after authorities rescued 13 malnourished children held captive by their parents in Perris, California, on January 16, 2018. David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin have been arrested for torture after authorities said on January 15, 2018, their 13 children were held captive in their home, with some shackled to beds in the dark. Authorities set bail at $9 million for the parents after a 17-year-old girl escaped the house on Sunday and called 911 using a cellphone found inside. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
The home of David Allen and Louise Anna Turpin in Perris, California, U.S., January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin speaks during a press conference in Riverside, California on a California couple who held their 13 malnourished children captive in a suburban home, charged Thursday with multiple counts of torture and child abuse on January 18, 2018 in Riverside, California. David Allen Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise Anna Turpin, 49 were hit with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependent adult at a court hearing in the city of Riverside. David Turpin was also charged with committing a lewd act against a child by force or fear or duress, District Attorney Mike Hestrin told a press conference. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Louise Turpin appears at her court arraignment with husband David in Riverside, California on January 18, 2018. The California couple who held their 13 malnourished children captive in a suburban home were charged Thursday with multiple counts of torture and child abuse as prosecutors said the youngsters had been shackled even to go to the bathroom. David Turpin, 57, and his wife, 49, were hit with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependent adult at a court hearing in the city of Riverside. / AFP PHOTO / Terry PIERSON (Photo credit should read TERRY PIERSON/AFP/Getty Images)
David Turpin appears at his court arraignment with wife Louise in Riverside, California on January 18, 2018. The California couple who held their 13 malnourished children captive in a suburban home were charged Thursday with multiple counts of torture and child abuse as prosecutors said the youngsters had been shackled even to go to the bathroom. David Turpin, 57, and his wife, 49, were hit with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependent adult at a court hearing in the city of Riverside. / AFP PHOTO / TERRY PIERSON (Photo credit should read TERRY PIERSON/AFP/Getty Images)
News crews gather outside the home of David Allen and Louise Anna Turpin in Perris, California, U.S., January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
David Turpin and Louise Turpin appear in court for their arraignment in Riverside, California, U.S. January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Gina Ferazzi/Pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
David Turpin (R) and Louise Turpin (L) appear in court for their arraignment in Riverside, California, U.S. January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Gina Ferazzi/Pool
Louise Ann Turpin appears in a booking photo provided by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department January 15, 2018. Riverside County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
David Allen Turpin appears in a booking photo provided by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department January 15, 2018. Riverside County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY
The home of David Allen and Louise Anna Turpin in Perris, California, U.S., January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
RIVERSIDE, CA - JANUARY 18: Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announces charges filed against a couple accused of holding their 13 children captive on January 18, 2018 in Riverside, California. According to Riverside County Sheriffs, David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, held 13 malnourished children ranging in age from 2 to 29 captive in their Perris, California home. Deputies were alerted after a 17-year-old daughter escaped by jumping through a window shortly before dawn on Sunday morning, carrying a de-activated mobile phone from which she was able to call 911 for help. Responding deputies described conditions in the home as foul-smelling with some kids chained to a bed and suffering injuries as a result. Adult children appeared at first to be minors because of their malnourished state. The Turpins were arrested on charges of torture and child endangerment. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
News crews gather outside the home of David Allen and Louise Anna Turpin in Perris, California, U.S., January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Neighbors stand and watch news crews outside the home of David Allen and Louise Anna Turpin in Perris, California, U.S., January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
PERRIS, CA - JANUARY 15: The home where a couple was arrested after police discovered that 13 people had been held captive in filthy conditions with some shackled to beds with chains and padlocks is shown January 15, 2018 in Perris California. David Allen Turpin and his wife Louise Anna Turpin were charged with torture and child endangerment after a 17 year old escaped the residence and contacted the police. Twelve others, ranging in age from 2 to 29, were discovered emaciated and malnourished in the home. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
David and Louise Turpin look on as attorney David Macher speaks during their court arraignment in Riverside, California on January 18, 2018. The California couple who held their 13 malnourished children captive in a suburban home were charged Thursday with multiple counts of torture and child abuse as prosecutors said the youngsters had been shackled even to go to the bathroom. Turpin, 57, and his wife, 49, were hit with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependent adult at a court hearing in the city of Riverside. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
New media gather outside the home of David Allen and Louise Anna Turpin in Perris, California, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
David Turpin confers with attorneys Allison Lowe (back of head) and David Macher (R) as Louise Turpin confers with attorney Jeff Moore, during his court arraignment with wife Louise in Riverside, California on January 18, 2018. The California couple who held their 13 malnourished children captive in a suburban home were charged Thursday with multiple counts of torture and child abuse as prosecutors said the youngsters had been shackled even to go to the bathroom. David Turpin, 57, and his wife, 49, were hit with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependent adult at a court hearing in the city of Riverside. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
RIVERSIDE, CA - JANUARY 18: Reporters set up microphones at the podium before Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announces charges filed against a couple accused of holding their 13 children captive on January 18, 2018 in Riverside, California. According to Riverside County Sheriffs, David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, held 13 malnourished children ranging in age from 2 to 29 captive in their Perris, California home. Deputies were alerted after a 17-year-old daughter escaped by jumping through a window shortly before dawn on Sunday morning, carrying a de-activated mobile phone from which she was able to call 911 for help. Responding deputies described conditions in the home as foul-smelling with some kids chained to a bed and suffering injuries as a result. Adult children appeared at first to be minors because of their malnourished state. The Turpins were arrested on charges of torture and child endangerment. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
RIVERSIDE, CA - JANUARY 18: Louise Anna Turpin (L) David Allen Turpin (2ed R), accused of holding their 13 children captive, appear in court for arraignment with attorneys Jeff Moore and Alison Lowe (R) on January 18, 2018 in Riverside, California. According to Riverside County Sheriffs, David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin held 13 malnourished children ranging in age from 2 to 29 captive in their Perris, California home. Deputies were alerted after a 17-year-old daughter escaped by jumping through a window shortly before dawn on Sunday morning, carrying a de-activated mobile phone from which she was able to call 911 for help. Responding deputies described conditions in the home as foul-smelling with some kids chained to a bed and suffering injuries as a result. Adult children appeared at first to be minors because of their malnourished state. The Turpins were arrested on charges of torture and child endangerment. (Photo by Gina Ferazzi-Pool/Getty Images)
Louise Turpin appears in court for her arraignment in Riverside, California, U.S. January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Frederic J. Brown/Pool
New media gather outside the home of David Allen and Louise Anna Turpin in Perris, California, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A media person takes a photo of a childs car seat inside one of the vehicles in front of the house at 160 Muir Woods Road in Perris, California, from where authorities rescued 13 malnourished children reportedly held captive by their parents, on January 15, 2018. David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin have been arrested for torture after authorities said on Monday their 13 children were held captive in their home, with some shackled to beds in the dark. Authorities set bail at $9 million for the parents after a 17-year-old girl escaped the house on Sunday and called 911 using a cellphone found inside. / AFP PHOTO / Bill Wechter (Photo credit should read BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images)
A sign is viewed in a neighboorhood where authorities rescued 13 malnourished children held captive by their parents in Perris, California on January 16, 2018. David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin have been arrested for torture after authorities said on January 15 ,2018 their 13 children were held captive in their home, with some shackled to beds in the dark. Authorities set bail at $9 million for the parents after a 17-year-old girl escaped the house on Sunday and called 911 using a cellphone found inside. / AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
PICTURED: Parents David and Louise Turpin were arrested on torture and child endangerment charges after police say… https://t.co/BQActvfDJu
"I didn’t know there were kids in the house.” - Andrew Santillan, who lives around the corner from the Turpin's hou… https://t.co/eGhA8CtKKn
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"You're tired, your ability to stand up for yourself is at its limits," said Dr. Roy Lubit, a New York-based child psychiatrist with expertise in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

David Turpin, a 57-year-old computer engineer, and his homemaker wife Louise, 49, each pleaded not guilty during an initial court appearance on Thursday. The father was also charged with sexually abusing one of his daughters.

Lubit said that starving a child showed premeditation when compared with someone who lashes out and strikes his or her victim in a spasm of rage.

"Hitting comes from angry outbursts, where with starving its a prolonged period of wanting to domineer, be in control. It's a power trip," he said.

Prosecutors said the Turpins would buy food for themselves, leaving apple and pumpkin pies on the kitchen counter but forbidding their children to eat it.

Experts say the siblings would likely be left with permanent physical and emotional damage, such as anxiety and depression, as well as issues around food.

“When the brain is starved of proteins and other building blocks, brain development is going to be impacted,” Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician who is a Democratic state senator from the Sacramento area, said.

The brain can be smaller than normal, and if typical developmental milestones are missed due to starvation, they cannot readily be made up later, he said.

As the body struggles to protect the heart and brain, it essentially consumes other organs and even bones, said Dr. Dean Blumberg, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Davis Children's Hospital in Sacramento.

Growth is stunted and long-term anemia and other nutritional deficiencies can lead to a drop in IQ as well, he said.

On Thursday, prosecutors said the siblings were severely malnourished, specifically having suffered muscle wasting, and some had suffered cognitive impairment and nerve damage as a result of the prolonged abuse.

The younger children could begin growing again once their nutrition improves but may never reach their full heights. Those who lost IQ might recover some of their intellect but not all of it, Blumberg said.

 

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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