Talks With Children Could End Stalemate

Authorities remained hopeful Saturday that a standoff in a dilapidated rural house would end soon now that the first face-to-face talks with the five children holed up inside have taken place.

Bryce Powell, the court-appointed attorney for the children's mother, confirmed the meetings with the children late Friday, but wouldn't reveal who was involved in the talks. Powell said progress had been made, but more work would be necessary to coax the children from the house.

"The children have food and water and they know their mom is alive," Powell said as he drove away from the isolated home, set off in the north Idaho woods on a barricaded dirt road.

The standoff, which entered its fifth day Saturday, began Tuesday after the mother, JoAnn McGuckin, was arrested on charges of child neglect at the filthy, decrepit house.

Sheriff's deputies later returned to the home near Garfield Bay, Idaho, about 10 miles south of Sandpoint, to take the six children into state custody. But the children, who range in age from 8 to 15 and were armed with weapons, unleashed dogs on the deputies.

Bonner County prosecutor Phil Robinson said he hoped any contact with the children would escalate negotiations.

"We would like to allay the kids' fears that their mom's in custody and she's okay," Robinson said Friday evening.

Late Thursday, the oldest boy, Benjamin McGuckin, 15, was taken into custody after he sought help from a neighbor, who drove him to meet with authorities in Sandpoint. Robinson said the boy confirmed there were five guns in the house.

His brothers and sisters — Kathryn, 16; Mary, 13; James, 11; Frederick, 9; and Jane, 8 — remained at the house early Friday.

The oldest sister Erina, 19, who left the house after an earlier falling-out with her parents, has been working with authorities.

Erina McGuckin's concerns about conditions at the home formed the basis of the neglect charge against JoAnn McGuckin, who was being held in custody on $100,000 bail. A bail-reduction hearing scheduled Friday was postponed when Powell failed to appear.

Deputies decided to wait out the situation, anticipating the children would run out of food quickly. Benjamin McGuckin told authorities the family received 200 pounds of staples last Friday, the day their father, Michael McGuckin, was buried.

Benjamin apparently had been outside for some time — perhaps since Tuesday — and the remaining children had probably been unaware that their brother had turned himself in, Robinson said.

The boy was in temporary "shelter care" provided by the state Department of Health and Welfare.

Michael McGuckin was diagnosed several years ago with multiple sclerosis. His May 12 death was attributed by the Bonner County coroner to malnutrition and dehydration.

Meanwhile, Sandpoint attorney Edgar Steele withdrew his involvement from the mother's case Friday.

Steele, who recently represented Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler in a lawsuit, had pressed for JoAnn McGuckin's release to end the conflict. He had said the standoff could draw anti-government activists from around the country to the area — 40 miles from the deadly 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge, where a deputy federal marshal and white supremacist Randy Weaver's wife and teenage son were killed.

Steele said he withdrew from representing McGuckin after he called the jail and was told he couldn't talk to her because she was being represented by Powell. Steele says Powell was only representing her in the criminal case, and that McGuckin had asked him to handle other issues, such as her children's custody.

Robinson, the prosecutor, said the woman had informed his office Friday that "under no circumstances was Steele going to be allowed to see her anymore."

The Associated Press contributed to this report