TUCSON, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Three Tucson sisters "expressed a desire to live a normal life," a neighbor said after they escaped what police said were dungeon-like conditions in their home.
The girls' mother, Sophia Richter, 32, and stepfather, Fernando Richter, 34, were held on kidnapping and child-abuse charges Wednesday for allegedly imprisoning their daughters, ages 12, 13 and 17, for two years, KOLD-TV, Tucson, reported. The stepfather also faces one count of sex abuse with a person under 15, The (Phoenix) Arizona Republic reported.
The 12- and 13-year-old girls told police they got away after their stepfather kicked in the door of their bedroom and threatened them with a knife, police said.
Police found the 17-year-old in another locked bedroom, KOLD-TV said. She hadn't seen her sisters for months, the newspaper said.
The Republic reported Tucson police Chief Roberto Villasenor said the two younger girls jumped from their bedroom window and ran to a neighbor's home. The neighbor calmed the girls until officers arrived, the newspaper said.
"The children were quite dirty, covered in dirt and grime, and it appeared that they hadn't been cleaned and bathed in quite some time," Villasenor said at a news conference Wednesday.
The girls told police they got one meal a day.
The neighbor likened the girls' home to a fortress, noting there was security signage around the property and the family stayed away from others in the neighborhood.
The neighbor, who declined to give his full name, said the girls were "very distraught" initially and worried their stepfather may have killed their mother. But he said they later "interacted as siblings would interact, teasing each other playfully" and "expressed a desire to live a normal life to go to school and see other relatives."
"They said they hadn't gone to school for two years," he said. "They were trying to guess what grades they were in."
Villasenor said the oldest sister kept a journal of the ordeal.
The chief said the home was rigged with alarms and the 17-year-old's room had extremely loud music blaring when police opened the door.
"There was a constant barrage of music and static," Villasenor said, noting efforts had been taken to soundproof the room from the outside.
Tucson police Capt. Mike Gillooly told reporters Tuesday the children were removed from the home.
"I can assure you we're doing everything we can to make sure these kids are kept safe," he said.