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Turpin sisters who escaped California house of horrors speak out about abuse

The parents, David and Louise Turpin, pleaded guilty to multiple charges including torture and false imprisonment, and were sentenced to life in prison.
Image: Diane Sawyer with two sisters from the Turpin family.
Diane Sawyer with two of the Turpin sisters.Christina Ng / ABC News

Two of the Turpin sisters, who along with their 11 siblings were held captive for years before escaping in 2018, are speaking out for the first time about the abuse they endured.

"The only word I know to call it is hell," one of the sisters said in a clip of an upcoming "20/20" special with Diane Sawyer.

Disturbing details about the case came to light in January 2018, after one of the daughters escaped their home in Perris, California, and called 911 using a cellphone she had taken with her. The girl, who was 17 at the time, told police that her brothers and sisters were being held by their parents, David and Louise Turpin, and some were chained, investigators said.

Responding officers initially thought the girl was a child because she was so emaciated, according to the investigators. When police entered the house — which became known as the "house of horrors — they found children ranging in age from 2 to 29 being held in "dark and foul-smelling surroundings," investigators said.

Some of the children were bound to their beds and furniture by chains and padlocks and many of them told police they were "starving," according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

In the Sawyer interview, the girl who called 911 talked about the courage to finally escape.

"I think it was us coming so close to death so many times," she said.

"It was literally a now or never. If something happened to me, at least I died trying," the girl added.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said the abuse began as neglect during the 17 years the family lived in Fort Worth, Texas, and intensified when they moved to California in 2010.

The couple's youngest child was the only one who appeared to have not been abused.

According to prosecutors, the children were given only one rationed meal a day and allowed to shower once a year. They would get in trouble for things like playing in the water while they washed their hands. Prosecutors said the punishment ranged from being beaten and choked to being shackled to their beds with no access to the bathroom for months at a time.

David and Louise Turpin would also bake pies and not let the children eat, and buy toys but refused to let the children open them.

The children spent most of their time in the house but would occasionally take family trips, including one where they went to Las Vegas for their parents' vow renewal.

Authorities said only one child, a son, was allowed to leave home to attend classes at a community college but was always accompanied by his mother.

One of the daughters was allegedly the victim of a lewd act by her father, according to prosecutors.

The parents pleaded guilty to 14 counts each of torture, dependent adult abuse, child endangerment and false imprisonment in 2019. They were sentenced to life in prison.

“Escape from a House of Horror — A Diane Sawyer Special Event” airs Nov. 19 at 9:01 p.m. on ABC.