13 California kids locked in a house of horrors -- Just one hero could have saved them so much sooner

Prosecutors in Riverside County in California charged David and Louise Turpin with multiple felony counts of torture, child abuse, abuse of dependent adults and false imprisonment Thursday for unbelievably horrific crimes allegedly committed against their 13 children.

The 56-year-old father and 49-year-old mother could face up to 94 years to life in prison if convicted of the charges. Their children, ranging in age from 2 to 29, were malnourished and appeared to have undergone years of abuse and starvation, authorities said.

When sheriff's deputies arrived at the home in the city of Perris about 70 miles east of Los Angeles – after being alerted by the Turpin’s 17-year-old daughter, who escaped – they said they found the other 12 children, including three who were in chains, in dark, dirty and foul-smelling surroundings.

The question that everyone keeps asking is obvious. How is it possible that no one knew that all these children were being held captive inside their own suburban tract home?

Why did those neighbors never do anything about it? Why did relatives not say anything? The paternal grandmother of the 13 children told police she hadn’t seen them in five years.

The answer is simple – there were no heroes to save them. A hero is someone who is willing to risk his or her own life to save the life of another person. Of course, we have heroes in the military, police, fire and rescue services, but where are the other heroes in everyday society?

Where are the heroes when we need them in our everyday lives?

There were clues that there was something desperately wrong with his family, and yet no one did anything about it.

When police arrived and rescued the children they also began to interview the neighbors. Some of those neighbors reported having seen the children appearing to be much younger than their chronological age, looking extremely pale and thin. One neighbor told police the children looked as if they were “invisible.”

Why did those neighbors never do anything about it? Why did relatives not say anything? The paternal grandmother of the 13 children told police she hadn’t seen them in five years.

Heroism always involves a conscious choice. You see the evil and you make a choice – do you give in or do you oppose it?

Numerous behaviors such as conformity, obedience, desire for approval, fear of rejection, and thinking someone else will take care of a bad situation prevent you from acting as a hero.

A person who is afraid of what people think of him or her will not take action in a time of need. A person who conforms and is blindly obedient will be afraid to question or defy unjust authority. A person who is not clear about his or her own morality and values will also be resistant to taking action when moral injustices are occurring.

Martin Luther King, whose memory we honored just this week with a national holiday said:  “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” 

The hero of this story is the17-year old girl who escaped from the Turpin home and called police. She was willing to risk her life to save her siblings. She made the difference!

And if just one person in the neighborhood had chosen to be a hero and do the right thing, he or she could have could have saved all of these children years of suffering!

Keep your eyes open and be aware of blind obedience. The opportunity to save a life could be right in front of you. Will you be a passive witness or a hero? What choice will you make?

Patrick Wanis, PhD, human behavior and relationship expert. For more visit: www.patrickwanis.com. Follow him on Twitter @behavior_expert.