Before the sensational “house or horrors” news exploded here and around the world with the discovery of the Turpin family – 13 siblings allegedly held captive by their own parents in a Perris house – whatever national publicity this city of 76,000 received was focused on the sky, like its ever-present flock of skydivers.
The Riverside County municipality some 80 miles north of San Diego is a well-known mecca for free-falling parachutists who come here to defy gravity, if only for seconds before landing at a private airport that boasts a pool, restaurant and the “Bombshelter Sports Bar & Grill,” where they can ratchet-down their soaring adrenalin with a post-jump cocktail.
During free falls, skydivers can look down on a neighborhood called Monument Park, now known to the outside world as the Turpin neighborhood, about a mile from the airport.
Perris is in the headlines these days as the city where the Turpin children, aged 2 to 29, were allegedly beaten, starved and tied up by their parents, David and Louise.
The parents have pleaded not guilty to 37 charges. David Turpin also pleaded not guilty to one count of lewd conduct with a minor.
“For the name Perris to be associated with that house of horrors is a shame,” said Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, manager at Skydive Perris, the town’s namesake resort catering to free-fallers.
“Really Perris is a globally famous location, for 40 years, a skydiver’s paradise.”
Perris began attracting all manner of skydivers back in the 1970s because it boasted sunny Southern California weather and an airport with endless fields, a wide-open landing zone and, eventually, a wind tunnel.
“Ski fans may go to Aspen, people around the world go Perris to go skydiving” said Brodsky-Chenfeld.
Perris has been the locale of various film shoots and other media features. Wilco, alternative rock darlings and two-time Grammy Award winners, filmed a skydiving-themed rock video in Perris for their record “Being There” 21 years ago.
But the image of this town known as an adventurous, fun-loving, free-wheeling place under clear California skies is now clouded by the image of children hungry and shackled, of one teenager’s desperate escape, of an army of police investigators and social workers, of TV crews and reporters from around the world descending on that one house that, to a skydiver, doubtless looked like just another home in just another neighborhood.
“We are all devastated by this tragedy,” Perris Mayor Michael Vargas told CNN on Monday.
“I can’t imagine what those (Turpin) kids and young adults are going through … A lot of our residents in that neighborhood are getting beat up, being asked why didn’t they do something? It’s not their fault.”
The recent spate of public pain in Perris appears most intense in the Monument Park neighborhood, the development where the Turpin family lived.
Area resident Josh Tiedeman-Bell helped pack 13 duffle bags filled with necessities – toiletries, blankets and more – to be delivered to the Turpin children.
He recalls the biggest issue in Monument Park was a battle three years ago against mosquitos.
“We were quiet here, we couldn’t get noticed by the city council,” Tiedeman-Bell said. “And now it’s so unfortunate (that) the Turpin story got us on the map. We’d like to go back.”
Tiedeman-Bell was one of the residents who saw five or six of the Turpin children at a community Christmas decorating party two years ago.
He remembers the children lined up behind their parents to get cookies and hot chocolate.
“They just looked different,” Tiedeman-Bell said. “Their haircuts were all like their dad’s. They looked like pilgrims.”
In this age of social media and unfiltered posts, any coverage of the Turpin family, of the house, of Monument Park, of Perris brings a flurry of derogatory online comments that leave locals wondering when and how it will all go away.
“(The year) 2018 has handed us a challenge, but we’ll get through this,” Tiedeman-Bell said. “As for the (media) spotlight, you can have it.”