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Idaho Mom Hopes to Reunite Family

May 30, 2002

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GARFIELD BAY, Idaho (AP) _ A year after her children went from backwoods isolation to the international spotlight, JoAnn McGuckin says life is finally returning to normal.

Her children held sheriff’s deputies at bay for five days starting last May 29, when McGuckin was arrested on a child neglect charge. At the time, she was defiant she would not let the government tell her how to raise her children.

But now the children are in public school _ some for the first time _ and appear to be thriving in foster care. McGuckin has custody of her six minor children for part of each week, and has settled into routines such as going to their soccer games.

And she is taking steps toward regaining custody of her shattered clan as early as August.

``My life is crazy as usual,″ McGuckin, 46, said Wednesday during a brief telephone interview. She means crazy in a good way.

It’s far from a year ago, when the children barricaded themselves in the rural home near Lake Pend Oreille and sicced their pack of semi-wild dogs on officers.

Five days after the standoff began, the bedraggled children surrendered and walked out of the filthy hovel that was their home.

Initial reports said the children _ ages 8 to 16 _ were heavily armed. The parents were described as paranoid and anti-government. The family was said to be subsisting on lily-pad soup.

While the soup story turned out to be wrong, the children were armed with a rifle. And when authorities finally entered the house, they were appalled by the layers of garbage and clothing intermingled with dog feces. There was rotten food, dead mice, empty beer and liquor containers. A filthy bucket served as a toilet.

As the child welfare case moved through the courts, it became clear the McGuckin family had been sundered by medical, emotional and financial hardships.

The family sawmill had gone bankrupt years before, and the demands of dealing with father Michael McGuckin’s lengthy bout with multiple sclerosis had consumed the family’s money and energy.

McGuckin was also suffering from a variety of ailments, and rarely left her bed.

Then Michael McGuckin died on May 12, 2001. The oldest daughter, Erina, 19, came home from the Navy for the funeral, saw the condition of the family home, and alerted authorities.

Now JoAnn McGuckin has a room in an alcohol-free household, is undergoing regular treatments for a variety of ailments and is living on $545 a month in disability benefits.

``JoAnn’s attitude has changed dramatically since the first time I met her,″ said Bryce Powell, the attorney who represented McGuckin on criminal matters. ``I think she’s become very remorseful about some of the decisions she made while she was ill and Michael was dying and how those affected her children.″

An attorney representing the children’s interests also said the situation is much better now.

``Things seem to have taken a better turn,″ said Brent Featherston.

The Department of Health and Welfare has until August to decide if it will reunite the family or terminate parental rights and find the children a permanent home.

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