HEARTENED by contact with children holed up in home, authorities try again Saturday

Saturday, June 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GARFIELD BAY, Idaho (AP) _ Heartened by contact with five children holed up nearly a week in their isolated rural home, authorities tried again Saturday to coax the kids outside.

``We have made personal contact at the residence,'' Bonner County Sheriff's Sgt. Rob Rahn said. ``We are making every effort to continue this today as we speak.''

The children _ and a 15-year-old brother who surrendered to authorities Thursday _ withdrew to the house Tuesday, when their recently widowed mother, JoAnn McGuckin, was arrested for child neglect. Their father died May 12.

Walled off from the outside world by fear, trees and more than two dozen dogs, the children at the house were incommunicado until Friday, when they spoke with their mother's court-appointed attorney and authorities.

Rahn and the lawyer, Bryce Powell, refused to say whether 15-year-old Benjamin McGuckin or his mother were participating.

Family members and trusted friends have been helping at the scene, Rahn said. He refused to name them.

The children were given food and water during Friday's ``long period'' of contact, he said.

``Their safety and well-being are our only concern at this point,'' Rahn said.

The children would be placed in state custody when they leave the house.

``I'm not going to put any pressure on those children. This is not going to be a confrontation,'' Sheriff Phil Jarvis said late Friday. ``I'll do whatever it takes to get kids out safely, even a pact with the devil himself.''

The children apparently share their mother's mistrust of authorities. The family became increasingly reclusive as financial hardships increased after father Michael McGuckin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His death was attributed to dehydration and malnutrition, complicated by his illness.

``It's going to be a major step just to get them to believe no one's going to hurt them,'' Bonner County Prosecutor Phil Robinson said.

Powell said progress had been made but more work remains to convince the children it is safe to leave the house. Still in the home are Kathryn, 16; Mary, 13; James, 11; Frederick, 9; and Jane, 8.

An older sister Erina, 19, who left the house after an earlier falling-out with her parents, has been working with authorities. Her concerns formed the basis of the neglect charge against JoAnn McGuckin, who was held in lieu of $100,000 bail.

After the mother's arrest, Bonner County sheriff's deputies returned to the home about 10 miles south of here to take the children into state custody. But they withdrew after Benjamin McGuckin yelled ``Get the guns!'' and the children unleashed more than two dozen dogs.

Benjamin apparently had been outside for some time _ perhaps since Tuesday _ and his five siblings were probably unaware he had turned himself in, Robinson said. He was in temporary ``shelter care'' provided by the state Department of Health and Welfare.

By all accounts, the family had been relatively prosperous until their sawmill business went bankrupt in the 1980s. The family has rejected offers of help.

The home was sold at auction last year to cover unpaid back taxes, but the McGuckins stayed on under arrangements that remain unclear, officials said.

JoAnn McGuckin refused to seek state aid as she grew increasingly paranoid about the government, local relief workers say. Her husband's body could not be buried for two weeks because she would not complete the county's indigent forms, The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash., reported Saturday.