Is California horror house society's fault?

What responsibility does society bear for the Turpins?By many accounts, the family at the center of the week's...

Posted: Jan 18, 2018 6:08 AM
Updated: Jan 18, 2018 6:08 AM

What responsibility does society bear for the Turpins?

By many accounts, the family at the center of the week's grimmest and most tragically fascinating story -- 13 children, ages 2 to 29, found starving and shackled in their parents' California home -- was a happy one. They dressed alike when they went out. They took family trips to Disneyland. Parents David and Louise Turpin were, according to David's mother, Betty, "very protective" and "highly respectable."

Whatever the neighbors might have suspected, apparently they did nothing.

One told reporters that the family never seemed to come outside; another said she didn't even know there were kids in the house. One recounted seeing children in the yard. They seemed "scared to death," she said. "You could tell they were terrified." And what did anyone do about it?

Nothing to see here, folks. Right?

It's funny how quick we are to judge other people's parenting -- moms who breast-feed too long are "overindulgent"; dads who are too involved in their kids' sports careers are putting the youths' lives in jeopardy out of narcissism and personal gain. Co-sleeping, homeschooling, kids who are allowed/not allowed to dress themselves or refuse to eat anything but grilled cheese -- everyone's got an opinion about what makes the next parent a bad one.

So how is it possible that 13 children were found, some padlocked to their beds, deprived of food and water, apparent prisoners in a foul-smelling house, in a neighborhood where the homes appear no more than a few feet from one another? In a neighborhood where most other children frequented the local playground? As one report put it, "The Turpins stood out for never being seen." Which is certainly not nothing.

You've got to wonder: Where are the parent police now?

It's a problem of all talk, no action, for sure. But it's also one of demographics. There was a time, not so long ago, when the American suburbs were seen as places where community ruled: block parties, neighborhood watch, kids playing in the cul-de-sacs. Now many suburbs are taking on the qualities previously associated with urban centers: places where people do their own thing, are less involved in one another's lives, and are less likely to know their neighbors' names, never mind be invited inside their house.

Economist Joe Cortright, who analyzed the data trends for CityLab, noted that "in the 1970s, nearly 30 percent of Americans reported spending time with their neighbors at least twice weekly; fewer than a quarter reported no interactions with neighbors. Over the past three decades, the number of interactions has trended downward. Today, nearly a third report no interactions with neighbors and only about 20 percent say they spend time regularly with neighbors."

Data from the most recent General Social Survey, an ongoing study that's tracked changes in society since the 1970s, shows that Americans have never been less likely to be friends with their neighbors, and that residents of suburbs showed the lowest level of neighborliness of any group studied, which included those in urban and rural areas.

Could it be possible that none of the Turpins' neighbors had any idea that something was terribly wrong in that house? Or did they suspect something was off but chose to mind their own business, or focus on their own problems? The mom who recalled seeing the scared kids in the yard explained her inaction this way: "I think what I thought was a little bit of that California 'I don't want to judge you,' " she went on to say. " 'I may not raise my kids that way.' "

In some news reports on the bizarre story, the parents of David Turpin have defended the couple and asserted they had so many children because "God called on them." We can't know what, if any, religious convictions figured into the Turpins' alleged treatment of their kids, but child abuse under the guise of religion is not unusual and can include forced marriages, genital mutilation, physical abuse, restricted diets and conversion therapy.

Some so-called anti-vaxxers even cite religion among their reasons for not immunizing their children. Given the allegations, did the Turpins -- whose family members said their children had "very strict homeschooling," and would memorize long passages in the Bible -- act out of cruelty? Or were they misguidedly adhering to a faith that told them to literally keep their children on a tight rein?

In the eyes of the law, it will likely not matter. David and Louise Turpin have both been arrested and charged with multiple counts of child endangerment and torture. But in the eyes of those of us looking to understand, perhaps it does.

At the very least, the Turpins may have struggled with mental impairment; we'll learn more as details emerge. Whatever their own issues, there is another we should confront -- one that may have prevented this apparently long-term disaster: As a society, we may be keeping to ourselves a little too much, judging others -- but from an ineffectual distance.

What's the fix? For starters, a return to neighborliness might help. And I'm not just talking about holding off until after 8 a.m. to use your leaf blower. Be considerate, be present, attentive to things that seem amiss. Say hello -- connect -- and ask how they are. Begin this today. It is, at its most basic, recommitting to the golden rule: Do to others what you want them to do to you.

You may not save the world. But giving a little bit of a damn -- it's a start.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 113876

Reported Deaths: 3238
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7894177
DeSoto693279
Harrison512983
Jackson450384
Rankin389486
Madison381293
Lee351479
Forrest300778
Jones289184
Washington256499
Lafayette248343
Lauderdale2437134
Lamar224238
Oktibbeha200854
Bolivar200477
Neshoba1842111
Lowndes178362
Panola169139
Leflore165887
Sunflower160949
Warren154355
Monroe148172
Pontotoc146119
Marshall141229
Lincoln138957
Pike138256
Copiah136936
Coahoma124936
Scott124929
Yazoo121733
Grenada121638
Simpson121249
Union117425
Tate116039
Leake114640
Holmes114460
Pearl River112959
Itawamba112225
Adams107343
Prentiss104819
Wayne100821
Alcorn98712
George97918
Covington97026
Marion94642
Tippah88922
Newton85627
Chickasaw84026
Tallahatchie84025
Winston83321
Hancock81628
Tishomingo80041
Attala79026
Clarke74351
Clay68421
Jasper67917
Walthall63827
Calhoun62212
Noxubee59617
Smith59116
Montgomery54323
Claiborne53716
Tunica52917
Yalobusha52614
Lawrence51214
Perry48723
Carroll48012
Greene47318
Stone46414
Humphreys42816
Amite42113
Quitman4196
Jefferson Davis40511
Webster37013
Wilkinson33720
Benton3335
Kemper32215
Sharkey28314
Jefferson27510
Franklin2403
Choctaw2056
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22988375
Mobile16788315
Tuscaloosa10235140
Montgomery9978197
Madison922894
Shelby727463
Baldwin661569
Lee651765
Marshall437249
Calhoun422461
Etowah421450
Morgan407135
Houston371734
DeKalb336029
Elmore317353
St. Clair289142
Limestone279730
Walker275593
Talladega263635
Cullman239925
Lauderdale218042
Jackson212515
Franklin203231
Autauga203030
Colbert198731
Russell19283
Blount191125
Dallas186327
Chilton185832
Coffee173211
Escambia172230
Covington171429
Dale166551
Chambers134343
Clarke133617
Pike132713
Tallapoosa131387
Marion107129
Barbour10129
Butler100240
Marengo100222
Winston91913
Geneva8617
Lawrence83732
Pickens83618
Bibb82514
Randolph82016
Hale75830
Clay73612
Washington73412
Cherokee73114
Lowndes70428
Monroe64510
Henry6436
Bullock63917
Crenshaw60330
Perry5856
Fayette56913
Wilcox56412
Conecuh56013
Cleburne5518
Macon53020
Lamar4745
Sumter47221
Choctaw39012
Greene34216
Coosa2033
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
53° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 53°
Columbus
Overcast
54° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 54°
Oxford
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 48°
Starkville
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 50°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather