Thirteen malnourished siblings allegedly kept captive in filthy conditions by their parents in a California home lived a strict existence with no social lives and no contact with extended family, two of their aunts said.
David and Louise Turpin were due to appear in court on Thursday (local time) on charges that may include torture and child endangerment, but their arrest came as a complete shock to loved ones.
Louise Turpin's sisters Teresa Robinette and Elizabeth Jane Flores spoke of their anger and disappointment after finding out their nieces and nephews were discovered chained to beds and malnourished.
Ms Robinette said the Turpin parents had both been raised in normal homes but had controlled every aspect of their children's lives.
"They weren't allowed to date and they didn't have a social life and weren't allowed to watch tv," she told NBC's Today program.
"They weren't allowed to talk on the phone, have friends over stuff like that —the normal stuff kids do."
Ms Robinette said she had attempted to bring up the children's health with her sister, but Turpin had dismissed her concerns.
"I always made comments to Louise when I did talk to her, about, 'Gosh, they are so skinny'," Ms Robinette said.
"She would laugh it off and say 'David's so tall and lanky, they are going to be like him'."
Ms Flores, speaking to ABC News' Good Morning America program, said she had tried to reach out to her sister and her children for the last two decades, but had been turned away.
"I want them to know that for years we begged to Skype [them], we begged to see them, the whole family," she said.
The children's aunt lived with the Turpins for a few months in Texas, prior to their move to California, and said her brother-in-law had often made her feel uncomfortable.
"If I went to get in the shower, he would come in while I was in there and watch me," she said.
Ms Flores said did not see any signs of abuse in that time and the Turpins' secretive nature meant the extended family had not thought to contact the authorities.
"They were always funny and private anyway before they had children," she said.
"If it had been, like, two years ago she cut us off, we would have thought, 'that's not right'."
'The human spirit is incredibly resilient'
Another abuse victim Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped by a homeless street preacher in 2002, also supported the Turpin children, saying she believed they could recover from their ordeal.
"The human spirit is incredibly resilient, so I do believe each one of them can go on to live a full life, to reclaim what's been taken from them," she said.
The arrests came after a 17-year-old daughter who looked closer to 10 jumped out of a window and called police.
Until the girl fled with photographic evidence, it appears no-one, neither neighbours nor public officials, knew anything about what was happening inside.
The home doubled as the Sandcastle Day School, where David Turpin was listed as principal and its enrolment of six included only the couple's younger children.
No state agency regulates or oversees private schools in California but they are subject to an annual inspection by the state or local fire marshal.
Perris Assistant City Clerk Judy Haughney said there were no records of any fire inspections conducted at the home.
Investigators conducted an exhaustive search of the foul-smelling, filthy tract home east of Los Angeles, saying "the whole house is a crime scene".
"They're trying to gather more information that may assist them in providing a full description of what was going on there," Riverside Sheriff's Deputy Mike Vasquez said.