Grabbing her bag and sneaking out the window in the middle of the night, Jordan Turpin ran into the unknown to seek refuge. But her journey was just starting. This is her incredibly heroic story of survival...
In November 2021, Jordan Turpin sat down for an emotional interview with Diane Sawyer. Three years after breaking free from a life of torture, she was finally ready to speak out. But it wasn't easy.
Nonetheless, thanks to hindsight, she was able to look back on that fateful night she risked her life to escape her family home of horrors. When asked what inspired her to do what she needed to do, her response surprised all those watching. "I don't know where we would be if not for Justin Bieber," she confessed...
Where It All Began
Taking it back to the start, Jordan's story begins with her father, David Turpin. Born and raised in West Virginia, his life was off to a promising start. After earning a degree in engineering from Virginia Tech University, David found continued success in the industry.
Turpin was a well-respected computer engineer and worked for various successful companies throughout the US. Unfortunately, all of his academic and professional successes were not enough to prevent him from building up significant debt, forcing him to declare bankruptcy in 2011. In 2012, he retired.
Meet Mrs. Turpin
The other half of the Turpin parental team was Louise Turpin. With thirteen kids under their care, Louise decided to be a stay-at-home mum, creating a home for the family while her husband worked. From an early age, she relied on alcohol in an unhealthy way.
According to Louise's sister, they had grown up in an abusive household, as their grandfather hurt them constantly. As a coping response, Louise involved herself with a range of witchcraft rituals and practices. Despite all of this, no one could have foreseen the horrific ways she would treat her children.
One Happy Family
As a young, newly married couple, David and Louise set up their new life together in Fort Worth, Texas. By 1999, the family had grown in size, and they decided to relocate to a bigger home in Rio Vista, California. In 2010, they moved yet again. This time, they settled in Perris, California.
Posing for pictures in Disney Land, all while wearing matching shirts, the Turpins seemed no different from any other family. Sure, their behaviors were sometimes a little cagey, but there was no real reason to assume anything too sinister was going on behind closed doors.
Of course, no one could have imagined the reality of the situation. Within the walls of the Turpin home lay a chamber of horrors where the thirteen children were forced to live in the most horrific conditions. The children were allowed to eat just once a day and were limited to one bath per year.
Any slight misstep in the eyes of David and Louise was retributed with severe punishments. And the Turpin home was left in a state of utter filth and neglect. No one other than their parents was allowed to leave the house, and visitors was out of the question.
Documenting the Drama
Amongst all of the torture and disarray, the Turpin children had one saving grace. They were permitted to journal their thoughts, spending their time penning their experiences and feelings. Looking back, the siblings noted how this activity provided them with a life-saving sense of escapism.
Of course, David and Louise never believed their children's words would ever be read by anyone outside of their home. For this reason, they let them write freely, unconcerned of any incriminating descriptions. Unknown to them, they would become a key component of their eventual downfall.
In an attempt to keep their children out of the public eye, David and Louise kept their family on an unusual schedule. "Most of the time, we were up at night and then sleeping in the day," Jordan told Diane Sawyer. "We [weren't] even allowed to stand up. We were supposed to be sitting down all the time."
The thirteen Turpin's were not permitted to attend school, as David took it upon himself to home-school them all. They were kept apart from other children their age, an unknown family in the neighborhood. The parents also never took their children to the doctor.
The 'Smart' Discovery
But in 2016, Jordan's life took a turn when she got hold of a smartphone that once belonged to her parents. What she didn't know then was that this phone discovery would lead to a chain of events resulting in her freedom. For now, though, it was just a glimpse into the outside world.
Jordan loved watching a wide range of YouTube videos; however, Justin Bieber was her favorite. It was the ultimate form of escapism, and soon Jordan began to create her own content, uploading it for the world to see. Dancing, and singing, she attempted to copy whatever she had seen in the videos she watched.
A Concerned Viewer
When a viewer questioned in the comments section why Jordan was always awake so late at night and seemed to always be indoors, Jordan received a life-changing reality check. "I did tell him that I didn't really go to school, and I wasn't allowed to go in the backyard or front yard and that I'm always kept inside," she recalled.
"I told him how we eat and how we're not allowed to get out of bed," she continued. "He was like, 'This isn't right, you should call the cops'… I was so happy to hear him say that because I was like, 'I was right. I was right that this situation is bad.'" Until that point, Jordan wondered if all kids experienced life the way she did.
Moment of Truth
After she was discovered watching videos on the smartphone and was severely punished by her parents, Jordan decided enough was enough. "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 [hurt] me."
Realizing that they could eventually be fatally harmed if they didn't escape, she spoke with her siblings to hatch a plan. "She was like, 'We need to get out of here,'" older sister Jennifer recalled to Diane. "So I gave her all the advice I knew, all the advice I could."
By this point, the Turpin sisters were sure they needed to escape - but they had no idea how they would go about achieving this. They knew so little about the world outside; even their own neighborhood was unfamiliar to them. If they managed to get out of the house, they needed to know where to go from there.
The older siblings put their heads together and tried to draw a map of the area based on their few outdoor excursions. They even attempted to call a taxi service to arrange a way out of the city. The plan was coming together. But they had no idea if they would be able to pull it off...
The decision was made that Jordan would climb out of her bedroom window at night with the cell phone and call 911 for help. That was when they remembered a severe flaw in their arrangements. They needed to ensure the police would believe them, or this would all be for nothing.
Jordan's brother had occasionally managed to watch Cops on the TV secretly, and he reminded her about the importance of evidence. "[I told her] get pictures, anything to prove so they can't think you're a teenager looking for attention," Jennifer recalled in the Diane Sawyer interview.
“It Was… Now or Never”
Jennifer began to take photos of her sisters tied up, promising them it would lead to their ultimate rescue. Whenever she got the opportunity, she used the stolen phone to take photos of the family's conditions. However, an announcement from their mother would soon instill a sense of urgency.
When Louise told the children they were moving to Oklahoma, they understood that if they didn't act now, they would never leave. "If we went to Oklahoma, there was a big chance that some of us would have [passed away]." "The very next day, we were moving. It was literally now or never," Jennifer added.
That night, January 14, 2018, the time had arrived for them to change their fate. Jennifer stuffed pillows under her blanket to make it look like she was sleeping and grabbed a backpack of stuff. With the phone in her hand, she then slipped out of the bedroom window in silence and ran off. What now?
"I was always terrified that if I called the cops or tried to escape, I would get caught, and then I knew I would [not survive] if I got caught," she recalled to Diane years later. "I think it was us coming so close to death so many times. If something happened to me, at least I died trying."
Finally, beyond the four walls of the Turpin home and breathing in the fresh air, Jennifer was too overwhelmed to act. "I had no idea what direction to go. I was so scared," Jordan recalled. She was standing in the road because she "didn't even know about the sidewalks." It was all one big unknown world.
She knew what she needed to do next. They had talked it through so many times, but when it came down to it, her nerves got the better of her. "I was trying to dial 911, but I couldn't even get my thumb to press the buttons because I was shaking so bad," she told Sawyer.
Calling for Help
Finally, Jordan got through to the emergency service operator. She wandered around the neighborhood as she carefully told them everything about their family home. All of their lives were hanging in the balance. She told them that if her parents caught her, they would harm her instantly.
"I was telling them everything: We don't go to school, we live in filth, how we starve and all this stuff," Jordan confessed. "Because I had to make sure that if I left, we wouldn't go back." Finally, the dispatcher told Jordan to stand by the local stop sign and wait for the police to arrive.
What To Believe?
Perhaps the only thing Jordan feared more than her parents finding her was the police not believing her story. "I was freaking out because I was, like, 'Wait, are they gonna take me back there?' I was so scared," she recalled. "I was so nervous because it was -- I've never had a conversation with a stranger before."
She and her siblings had prepared exactly what she would say to the Deputy, but they knew there were no guarantees. Yes, they had photographs, but what would be if they refused to even look at them? Jordan understood that her limited vocabulary and confused mindset might be her ultimate downfall.
Deputy Anthony Colace was the one to arrive at the scene. In the last minutes of his late-night shift, he decided it would be worthwhile to pick up the call. As far as he had been told, it was a runaway teenager. Those were easy to deal with - return the kid home and be on his way.
As soon as he arrived at the scene, he realized how wrong he had been. After hearing the frazzled teenager's shocking story, he predictably asked for proof. A prepared Jordan handed over the phone filled with photos. Colace could not believe his eyes - surely this could not be real?
The digital photos showed the children in filthy living conditions. "They looked very sad, malnourished, they were very pale. They had bags underneath their eyes," Colace explained to ABC News. "Once I saw that photo, it really sealed the deal for me."
Colace inquired if Jordan was injured or on medication; both questions she could not comprehend. "I was just thinking how smart and how brave she was," he said. "I asked her what her middle name was, and she said 'Elizabeth.' I asked her to spell it. She couldn't spell it."
Arriving at the Scene
It was clear from the Deputy's face that he was concerned, and Jordan anxiously awaited what he would say next. Colace asked the teenager what he would find if he came straight to the family home. Jordan told him that it would look exactly like the photos as long as her parents hadn't noticed she had left.
With that, the Deputy sprung into action. Jordan sat in the back of the cop car while Colace called for backup. Now an hour and a half after Jordan's escape, the team of sheriffs headed to the Turpin house and knocked. "They said, 'it's the police,' and I'm like, 'Oh, this is it,'" Jennifer remembered. But what would they find?
House of Horrors
No photo or video could have ever prepared the team of detectives for what they soon found. Walking through the house under the guise of a routine welfare check, they were speechless. They saw malnourished children sitting with visible injuries.
Footage from the detective's body camera, aired during the Diane Sawyer special, showed a house full of filth and clutter. Empty food boxes, rotting food, spoiled garbage, and even more. In the media coverage that followed, their home was appropriately titled the "house of horrors."
The Sheriff's team had seen enough to arrest David and Louise on the basis of child neglect. While Jordan anxiously waited in the Deputy's car, she gasped as she saw her parents walk out of the house in handcuffs. "I started freaking out," she said. "I didn't know what was going to happen at all."
With the parents out of the way, the children were rushed to the hospital for urgent medical care. Handed clean clothes and food, the doctors and nurses teared up when they saw the state of these children. What would be next for these unfortunate Turpin children?
While the Turpin children were still under medicare supervision, their incredible story became worldwide news. Every media publication wanted insight into the case, desperately trying to score an interview with any of the Turpins. The world needed to hear from them to believe it was true.
But the House of Horrors survivors had way more pressing issues to deal with than speaking to the media. They needed to rebuild their lives, find new homes, learn to live in the real world and interact with real people. They had a long, difficult road ahead of them.
In what may be the most tragic component of this entire story, many of the Turpin children continued to live in abusive homes. Jordan herself was placed in one such foster home. After putting her life on the line for the sake of her and her siblings' freedom, she found herself back where she started.
"I'm not ready to go into details about what happened to me in that home. I was very traumatized, and it's been a very scary journey," Jordan told People. "It was really hard to understand the first situation [with my parents]. Then going into another, that was just really, really hard."
A Trial To Remember
Following their arrest, David and Louise Turpin pleaded non-guilty to the 14 felony charges. Throughout the trial, an overwhelming amount of evidence was brought forward, including the children's journals and the photos that Jennifer had taken. The eyewitness report from the police search also spoke volumes.
With this against them, the parents had no choice but to admit their guilt. Through tears, Louise apologized to her children, to which one child said he forgave them. Ultimately, despite their expressions of remorse, the couple was sentenced to life in jail, with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
“I Wanna Be out There, I Wanna Be Like That”
The question that remains pertains to the credit that Jordan attributes to Justin Bieber. How did the singer play a part in her successful escape? "Sometimes when mother and father would leave, we would sneak in and turn on the tv," she explained, "so we would see his music videos and stuff, and that's where we learned a lot."
"Watching his interviews made me learn fast and smarter because I started paying attention. I started realizing that there was a different world out there; I only knew one world. I was like, I wanna be out there, I wanna be like that." Hearing their story, Justin invited the Turpins to his concert, where they met his wife, Hailey (above).
To bring awareness to her family's story and alert the world to the dangers her siblings were still experiencing at the hands of the childcare system, Jordan sat down with Diane Sawyer for ABC News in 2021. Alongside her older sister Jennifer, they recalled their heroic tale and begged for help on behalf of their siblings.
As a result of the interview's revelations, ABC News launched an investigation into the family's living situations. "They have been victimized again by the system," said Mike Hestrin, the Riverside County district attorney, said. Overall, the investigation provided few answers due to the intense secrecy surrounding the case.
An Emotional Reunion
One of the more uplifting parts of the ABC special was the incredible reunion shown between Jordan and her savior, Deputy Colace. "I've told all my siblings the story more than once," Jordan told a crying Colace. "And I'm just so thankful because you saved all of us. Thank you so much."
The Deputy praised Jordan for her bravery and foresight in collecting the photographic evidence. "Without it, it would've been a very tough decision on what to do next. You get all the recognition and credit," he assured her. "You did the hard part, and you did the scary part."
Jordan & Jennifer, Now
Three years after the escape and sitting down with Diane, Jordan and Jennifer proudly reflected on their new lives. Jennifer has her own home, a car, and a pet cat and works in a local restaurant. She also enjoys writing Christian music in her free time.
Jordan earned her high school diploma in just a year and is now enrolled in some college classes. She is also a hugely successful TikTok star, boasting an impressive 900,000 followers. She uses the platform to tell her story and spread words of kindness and love.
Hopes for the Future
With so much darkness in their past, the sisters dream about a brighter future. Jordan wants to make a difference in the world by being a motivational speaker. She pictures her future including "a beautiful house with a handsome husband." She also hopes to finally meet Justin Bieber and thank him!
Jennifer, too, has big dreams, hoping to become a published author. Overall though, she prays that her family's name will not be forever associated with victim sympathy. "I want the last name Turpin to be remembered as a name of strength. They are not weak; they're not broken. They've got this."