In an all-new ABC News 20/20 special event titled “Escape from a House of Horror,” Diane Sawyer sits down with Jordan Turpin and Jennifer Turpin. For the first time since being freed from the abuse of their parents, the sisters disclose everything about their escape from a house of horror.
“Escape from a House of Horror” goes back to the early hours of Jan. 14, 2018. 17-year-old Jordan Turpin is on the phone with the Riverside County police attempting to nervously explain what she and her 14 other siblings endured. She relays to the operator that she ran away from home in hopes of receiving help for her younger siblings who are currently being held in chains by their parents.
Jordan is soon met on a street corner by Deputy Anthony Colace, to whom she explains her shocking story once more. The body camera footage highlights the girl’s nervousness as she confided in the deputy: “This is one of the most scariest things I’ve ever done. I’m terrified.” The Turpin girl reveals that she’s never had a conversation with a stranger before or been outside on the street for that matter. She also details even more about her living conditions; her home is “filthy,” and on some nights she finds it hard to even breathe. Jordan also adds that her last bath was over a year ago.
“Escape from a House of Horror” flashes forward four years, depicting Jordan Turpin accompanied by Diane Sawyer and her older sister Jennifer Turpin. The Turpin sisters begin to reminisce on that January night that led to their freedom. The conversation began with Sawyer asking the sisters, “What was the first real moment that felt like freedom?”
Jennifer recounts that after being rescued from that house and taken to the hospital to be evaluated, there was a moment she felt completely free. In her hospital room, while the music played, she checked to make certain the floor was clear of any obstacles. Then, she simply danced.
Jordan illustrates an occasion she went to a park, along with two of her other siblings. Jordan exclaimed, “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?”
She continued to gush about this moment of liberty as she explained, “This is so free. This is life.”
As the girls continue to converse with Sawyer, Jordan explains she found the courage to seek freedom in a surprising place. While using her brother’s old smartphone, she discovered teen pop sensation Justin Bieber online. Trapped within the house of horror, Jordan had no idea how limitless the world outside was. However, as she listened to Bieber’s songs and watched videos of his daily life, she became curious about the world outside those walls. She began to crave what the world had to offer more and more.
As the girls let go of the struggles and dark reality of the past, they explain how their current lives weren’t all sunshine and rainbows, either. Jordan explains that after leaving extended foster care, she struggled to find a steady place to live and encounters some difficulties acquiring food. Jennifer discloses that she’s been housed in an area with a high crime rate and often feels unsafe. After the story broke to the world of what the Turpin children endured within the walls of their California residence, strangers generously donated $600,000 to the Turpin children to help them with anything they might need. The state placed this into a trust, but the Turpin siblings express the extreme difficulty of accessing these funds.
After they entered the county’s care, the Turpin children still faced neglect from the state of California, who vowed to protect them. Vanessa Espinoza, who was assigned to the adult Turpins as their public guardian, refused to teach them how to use public transit or how to safely cross the street. Joshua Turpin also revealed his request for a bike was denied, and that whenever he would go to Espinosa for assistance, she advised him to “just Google it.”
The Turpin children who are still minors were placed into the foster care system in California. Within the system, the children came face to face with abuse again. One of the minor Turpin children ended up in a home where the foster parents were accused of abuse for over three years. Another Turpin child was verbally abused by their foster parents. They told the child, “I understand why your parents chained you up.”
As the 20/20 special event nears its end, we see Jordan and Deputy Colace reunite for the first time since he helped free her and her siblings years ago on that fateful January night. Teary-eyed Colace shares a hug with Jordan, who expresses her immense gratitude to the deputy for saving her siblings and her own life.
In the event’s final moments, the Turpin sisters let go of the past and peer toward what the future holds for them. Jennifer shares her dream of becoming a Christian pop artist and wanting to use her music to help people in anguish. Jordan, on the other hand, hopes to become an author and a motivational speaker.
Most importantly, the girls emphasized they don’t want the name “Turpin” to be viewed in a negative light or as a sign of weakness. They asked the world to think of one thing when they hear their last name: “strength.”
“Escape from a House of Horror” does a beautiful and careful job handling the topic of the relentless abuse these children suffered at the hands of their parents and the state of California. The special teaches viewers that in spite of relentless setbacks, bravery makes anything possible; the last name Turpin will be remembered as a symbol of strength and triumph.