Law officers will wait as long as necessary to avoid having to storm a house full of gun-toting children and vicious dogs in rural Sandpoint, Idaho, where the six kids took refuge from sheriff's deputies who want to put them in the custody of welfare workers, Bonner County Sheriff Phil Jarvis said Wednesday.
"I have a four-year term," Jarvis said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm not going to force an issue with children."
Deputies retreated from the house near the Idaho town on Tuesday evening and settled in to wait out the children, according to Jarvis. Efforts to supply them with food and water Wednesday were thwarted by the roaming dogs, he said.
"Time's on our side," Jarvis said. "We'd like very much to get them food and to know they are OK, but they are not responsive."
Hungry and armed, the six children, ages 8 to 16, holed up in their home on Tuesday, releasing a pack of 27 vicious dogs on the officers who, earlier in the day, had arrested their possibly mentally ill mother, Jarvis said. Wednesday morning, officers were still trying to figure out how to get the kids out without anyone getting hurt.
"I told them, 'We're just going to defuse it, we're leaving,'" Jarvis said Tuesday night.
"I'm not going to get into a Randy Weaver thing," he added, referring to the 1992 Ruby Ridge, Idaho standoff with federal agents that left a woman and her young son dead.
On Tuesday, deputies arrested the children's mother, Joann McGuckin, 46, on a warrant charging felony injury to a child. Authorities believe McGuckin is mentally ill, and her husband died about a week ago, Jarvis said.
McGuckin had stopped coming out of the house since late May, when she agreed to keep her pack of nearly feral dogs in the basement after they attacked a deputy and a woman who was walking by the house. The woman, Stephanie Almy, was hospitalized with 17 stitches.
"They hunt. They pack like wild animals," Jarvis said. "They took down a moose a little while ago."
To effect the warrant Tuesday, the sheriff's office had to come up with a ploy, Jarvis said.
"We know there are six children in there and guns in the house. The kids are trained to use the guns," he said. "We've been working for four or five days trying to figure out how to get the mom off the property and get her in a mental hold."
The stratagem was to have deputies bring McGuckin some money in the hopes she might leave the house to get groceries. The house has no power, heat or water, and the family is "absolutely stone broke," Jarvis said.
After the money was delivered, McGuckin agreed to go with a deputy to Garfield Bay to make a call. At about 4 p.m., McGuckin was taken into custody at Garfield Bay.
Deputies returned to the home to get the children and put them in the custody of state Department of Health and Welfare.
As a deputy was explaining the situation to the 15-year-old boy, he "runs back to the house and yells, 'Get the guns,' " Jarvis said. "They let all the dogs out of the basement. The dogs were attacking again."
After warding off the dogs with gunshots, officers used a loudspeaker to try to talk the kids out of the house.
"We were trying to convince them that we weren't there to hurt them, and that we were there to assist them, to get them housing and food," Jarvis said.
At about 7 p.m., the officers left.
The children, who were home-schooled, are in the care of their 16-year-old sister, Jarvis said. A 19-year-old sister who left home some time ago has been assisting the sheriff's department.
"The children are no worse than they were night before last," Jarvis said.
--The Associated Press contributed to this report