Published January 13, 2015
A 15-year-old boy who holed up with his armed brothers and sisters and a pack of dogs in their Idaho home and launched a showdown with sheriff's deputies has been taken into state custody and may be willing to help end the standoff, authorities said Friday morning.
Bonner County Prosecutor Phil Robinson indicated that Benjamin McGuckin may be able to help resolve the stalemate between his family and law officials.
"He indicated he may be able to be of some assistance," Robinson said. "He could convince them that nothing bad will happen."
In the meantime, the boy's five brothers and sisters remain in their rural Sandpoint, Idaho, home with the guns and menacing dogs that have kept the cops at bay since Tuesday.
Benjamin, an avid reader of survivalist magazines, went to a neighbor's house late Thursday and accepted the neighbor's offer to drive him to a meeting with authorities. He met with a sheriff's deputy, a state social worker and two doctors — a pediatrician and a family practitioner, Robinson said.
Although there was "some indication that he was suffering from malnutrition," the boy did not need to be hospitalized and was in the custody of the state Department of Health and Welfare, Robinson said.
But five other children between the ages of 8 and 16 are still in the house, and it's not clear who is in charge.
Robinson said he had not met with Benjamin and that he did not "anticipate filing any charges" against him.
The standoff began Tuesday after sheriff's deputies lured the children's 46-year-old mother, JoAnn McGuckin, out of the house. They offered her money and a trip to a local store, then arrested her on a warrant charging felony injury of a child.
The children's father, Michael McGuckin, was buried last Friday after a lengthy illness.
An older daughter, Erina, 19, who moved out of the house before the mother's arrest, has been helping authorities try to resolve the standoff. It was not immediately clear whether Benjamin would join that effort.
"We hope that maybe they can give us some insight into how to wind this thing down," Robinson said.
He said he believed the boy was staying at a juvenile facility in Sandpoint pending long-term arrangements.
Edgar Steele, a local lawyer for the McGuckin children who recently represented Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, had been working to keep the youngsters together.
"We believe he (Benjamin) has been placed with strangers," Steele said.
On Thursday, Steele said sheriff's deputies should back off and warned that anti-government activists from around the country would converge on the area unless the mother was released from jail. He called the case "a modern American tragedy in the making."
"The sheriff's department is adding fuel to the fire," Steele said.
Steele said he would ask a county judge to reduce the mother's $100,000 bail and reunite her with her children.
Contrary to previous reports, the house has had electricity throughout the standoff, said officials at Northern Lights, the local power company.
Prosecutors said in court Wednesday that the children were malnourished, dirty and deprived of heat, and that the mother had been spending the family's meager financial resources on alcohol.
At a news conference Thursday, Steele ridiculed the assertion that the children had been starving and filthy and living in unhealthy conditions.
"They've characterized them as little more than savages," Steele complained. "It just ain't the truth."
Besides Erina, a grown son also lives elsewhere. That son has not been involved in the standoff.
Children remaining in the house are Kathryn, 16, Mary, 13, James, 11, Frederick, 9, and Jane, 8.
When deputies tried to approach the residence Tuesday, Benjamin led the others in loosing a pack of vicious dogs and shouted "Get the guns!" Robinson said.
Since then, deputies have had no luck trying to negotiate with the children and settled on trying to wait them out.
The children were said to be well-armed and proficient with guns, but Steele noted that no weapons have been seen in this standoff. The house is located near the community of Garfield Bay, about 10 miles south of this north Idaho town.
A family friend picked up a 200-pound box of staples for them last Friday at the Bonner Community Food Center, where the family regularly received food, director Alice Wallace said.
Of reports that the children had been subsisting on lily pad soup and lake water, Wallace said, "They weren't existing on that and that alone."
She characterized the McGuckins 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."
He went to the house Thursday, but said the children would not speak to him either.
Steele did spend two hours with the mother on Wednesday, working pro bono as one of her lawyers and representing the children's interests. McGuckin also has a court-appointed lawyer.
"This woman is perfectly capable of taking care of the kids and herself," he said.
The family fell on hard times when the family's sawmill business went bankrupt in the 1980s. Michael McGuckin, who had worked at a lumber mill, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis several years back.
The Bonner County coroner attributed McGuckin's May 12 death at age 61 to malnutrition and dehydration. Acquaintances say JoAnn believed chemicals sprayed on area roads had caused her husband's illness.
The younger children were kept home from school. With no money for utilities, the family often did without heat, electricity, telephone and running water.
The family home was sold at auction last year to satisfy unpaid back taxes, but the McGuckins remained in the residence under arrangements that remain unclear, officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.