Children, pack of dogs holding off Idaho authorities
SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) – Armed with rifles and a pack of wild dogs, a family of six children hunkered down in their ramshackle home for a third day Thursday, refusing to accept help from government officials they feared and distrusted.
Bonner County sheriff’s deputies blocked off a dirt road in northern Idaho and waited patiently, not wanting to provoke further paranoia from a family that had worked hard to cut itself off from the outside world. It was not clear whether the children were talking with them.
Alice Wallace, director of a community food center, characterized the family of JoAnn and Michael McGuckin as ”a normal family that has fallen on hard times.” The children are ”great kids. They’re well-mannered, they’re polite, they’re respectful.”
Now, she said, ”They’re scared, I’m sure. Your dad dies a couple of weeks ago, and then your mother’s taken away from you – that would be a little unnerving, don’t you think?”
McGuckin was buried last Friday and his wife was arrested Tuesday on charges of injuring a child. After her arrest, deputies went to the house for the children, who were to be placed in state custody. But one of the boys spotted them, yelled, ”Get the guns!” and set the dogs loose.
”I think they have been raised to be leery of government officials and maybe some law,” Wallace said Thursday.
The children – ages 8 to 16 – have each other, rifles they know how to use and 27 half-wild dogs in a run-down home without water or electricity.They also have enough food to hold out for a while. A family friend picked up a 200-pound box of staples for them at the food center last Friday, Wallace said.
The specter of nearby Ruby Ridge is inescapable here. Three people died in that 1992 northern Idaho standoff – anti-government isolationist Randy Weaver’s wife and son, and a federal deputy, one of several sent to arrest Weaver on a weapons charge.
Authorities say they will simply wait and not rush the situation in Sandpoint, which is about 40 miles north of Coeur d’Alene.
According to the Rev. Dennis Day of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Sandpoint, the family’s eldest daughter, is 19-year-old Erina. She is cooperating with authorities.
Still in the home are Kathryn, 16; Benjamin, 15; and four younger children – Mary, James, Frederick and Jane – whose ages Day did not know.
A longtime friend, Mary Peters, offered a 10-year-old photo of the McGuckins in happier times, smiling with five of their eight children. She said she was met with snarling dogs and a shotgun-toting family member the last time she stopped in to offer help.
”They were thinking we were all their enemies,” Peters said.
The hard times began when Michael McGuckin, who had worked at a lumber mill, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis several years ago. The Bonner County coroner attributed his May 12 death at age 61 to malnutrition and dehydration.
Acquaintances say his wife believed chemicals sprayed on area roads had caused her husband’s illness.
”She was quite paranoid about the government, and I don’t know what led to that,” Wallace said, adding it prevented JoAnn McGuckin from signing up for state aid.
The family refused help from neighbors and their former church, but did routinely receive food from the center, Wallace said, downplaying reports that the children had been subsisting on lily-pad soup and lake water.
The younger children were kept home from school. With no money for utilities, they did without heat, electricity, telephone and running water. They dipped water from the nearby lake.
The children were occasionally seen swimming or on errands by neighbors who live around Garfield Bay, 10 miles south of Sandpoint. Still, residents say the family avoided contact.
The situation reached a crisis Tuesday, when JoAnn McGuckin was offered cash and a trip to the store by deputies. She was subsequently arrested on a warrant charging felony injury of a child – a charge authorities have refused to elaborate on.
In court Wednesday, her long red hair loose about her shoulders, she asked that the court appoint an attorney and was ordered held on $100,000 bail. Prosecutors said she had been spending the family’s meager financial resources on alcohol.
Bonner County Sheriff Phil Jarvis accused a television station of spoiling the negotiations between a Catholic priest and a relative of the six children Wednesday when its news helicopter appeared overhead.
KREM-TV news director Rich Lebenson said Thursday the station did not know that talks were going on and would review its policies.
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