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Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar: Josh 'improperly touched' sisters

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar appeared on "The Kelly File" Wednesday night amid a media frenzy over sexual abuse allegations against their eldest son.

When he was a minor, Josh Duggar "improperly touched" five victims, including four of his younger sisters and someone who is not a family member, the embattled reality TV star's parents told Fox News' Megyn Kelly Wednesday in an exclusive interview.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar -- stars of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting" -- appeared on "The Kelly File" amid a media frenzy over sexual abuse allegations against their eldest son. Twelve years ago, they said, when Josh was "just 14," he "improperly touched some of our daughters." Jim Bob Duggar called it "one of the ... darkest times our family has ever gone through," adding, "We were devastated."

RELATED: Santorum says he was 'sickened' by Duggar sex abuse allegations

"He said he was just curious about girls," the family patriarch told Kelly, claiming at first Josh Duggar touched his sisters' breasts "over their clothes while they were sleeping." Duggar's parents said none of their daughters was aware of "Josh's wrongdoings" -- they were asleep, and did not recall the incidents, according to the Duggar parents.

What did they do about it? "First we tried to deal with this in-house," they said, noting that "as parents, you’re not mandatory reporters.”

Then, the situation escalated. There were "a couple incidents where he touched them under their clothes," and "subsequent incidents involved daughters who were awake," they said. That's when Josh Duggar's parents sent him away for Christian counseling. “We knew of a man who mentored young men ... running a training center in Little Rock, Arkansas." The counselor, they said, was not a licensed therapist.

By then, Josh Duggar was 15 years old. One of his sisters who he molested was under the age of 10.

RELATED: Advertisers flee ‘19 kids’

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar eventually reported Josh's wrongdoing to the police, but not before the statute of limitations had run, rendering his actions unpunishable by law. The law enforcement officer to whom they reported Josh's behavior was later jailed himself on child pornography charges.

Earlier Wednesday, In Touch Weekly reported that on "three separate occasions," Josh Duggar admitted that as a minor, he committed "multiple acts of sexual molestation." The magazine attributes the information to a police report obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. Authorities say the report has since been destroyed per a court order.

Last week, after the allegations surfaced, Josh Duggar apologized for acting “inexcusably,” and his parents -- who became famous for their conservative Christian values -- acknowledged “some very bad mistakes.”

RELATED: GOP mostly silent on Duggar case

“Twelve years ago, as a young teenager I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret,” Josh Duggar said in an apology posted on the family’s Facebook page. “I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life. I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. I would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.”

Besides presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who last week expressed disgust over the allegations against Duggar, the 2016 GOP pack has largely stayed silent on the apparently radioactive Duggars, once considered a valuable line to many Republican Party evangelicals -- with one notable exception. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee posted a robust defense of the Duggars on Facebook shortly after In Touch first published a police report listing the allegations.

Meanwhile, nearly every member of the emerging GOP presidential field can be found smiling with the now-27-year-old Josh Duggar -- the former executive director of FRC Action -- on his Twitter profile.

Additional reporting by msnbc's Emma Margolin.