Five children holed up in a remote Idaho home with guns and dogs ended their five-day standoff Saturday night.
Authorities said all of the children voluntarily left the house at 6 p.m. and were taken to a Sandpoint hospital for examination.
"It was exactly the conclusion we were hoping for: safely, quietly, with no undue pressure on the children," said Sgt. Robert Rahn, spokesman for the Bonner County Sheriff's Department.
The departure of the children in a vehicle weaving down a lonely country road brought an abrupt end to a bizarre standoff that put the family at the center of a national debate over child welfare, parental rights and the increasing marginalization of the poor in rural America.
To militia groups across the country, the desperate children--alone at the house since their mother was arrested Tuesday on a felony child neglect charge--represented a government campaign against the rights of parents to raise their children.
But to neighbors in this scenic lakeside community, who had tried for years to help the family, the end of the standoff was a welcome relief.
"It's over, it's over," shouted Dori Stricklan, owner of a grocery store that had been besieged by media crews from around the world.
Earlier Saturday, the heads of the Aryan Nations and the Militia of Montana had arrived at the scene, declaring that militia members across the country were prepared to intervene if the authorities moved to force the children out.
"We've had literally hundreds of phone calls from across America, from just about every state, asking what we should do," said John Trochmann, who heads the Noxon, Mont.-based group. "At the moment, we're asking them to please stand down."
Richard Butler, head of the Aryan Nations, blamed the standoff on the authorities. "If the government would go away and let them see their mother, everything would be OK. The kids are scared."
JoAnn Dunn McGuckin, 45, is being held in the Bonner County jail on $100,000 bail on a felony charge of child neglect after authorities accused her of providing inadequate food, heat, clean water and sanitation to the children, ages 8 to 16. The family has lived in virtual isolation on the 40-acre property in recent years. McGuckin's husband, Michael, died May 12.
The standoff attracted interest from anti-government groups across the country because of McGuckin's reported anti-government views and because her lawyer has accused the government of improperly taking McGuckin's home and children from her. The remote property southeast of Sandpoint, Idaho, was sold for about $8,000 in back taxes last year.
"This family continues to be under siege by its own government," said lawyer Edgar Steele, who was representing McGuckin on civil matters. "I still steadfastly maintain her only crime is that of being poor."
The children, Steele said, "love her and they need her, particularly now that they've just lost their father."
Rahn said he believed the sheriff's department handled the situation appropriately in the end.
"We didn't force anything, we didn't put any undue pressure on the children, we didn't let any outside interferences determine how we were going to handle it, and it came to a successful conclusion," Rahn said.
Sheriff's officials said they intervened because the children faced serious health risks under McGuckin's care. Over the past two days, they had dropped off parcels of food and water. Envoys familiar to the children approached the house and were able to make contact.
Bill Walker, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Welfare, said the state has identified a foster family that is willing to take "up to all" of the children if their mental and physical states are appropriate to their remaining together.
On Saturday night, Walker said the children would remain in the hospital at least overnight.
"Obviously, the first thing we need to do is have a physician and a mental health professional work with the children to determine how they're doing, how they're dealing with the trauma of the last few days, and once we have the answers to these questions, we can proceed to the next step," he said.
Walker said a judge would determine, probably on Tuesday, whether they should go into foster care or be returned home.
The issue of the family's two dozen dogs--whose presence on the property was one of the deterrents to deputies approaching the house--was resolved by family friends, who are known to the dogs and who calmed them when negotiators approached, Rahn said.
McGuckin's criminal lawyer, Bryce Powell, told local reporters that two intermediaries took a note from McGuckin to the children assuring them that she loved them and that she was well.
Steele said contributions totaling more than $7,000 have come in from around the country to help McGuckin post bail. A hearing reviewing her $100,000 bail is scheduled for Monday.
County prosecutor Phil Robinson conceded that the bail was high for a child neglect case but said he feared McGuckin returning to the house and raising the stakes in the confrontation.
Benjamin McGuckin, 15, left his siblings in the house last week and was cooperating with authorities, as was 19-year-old Erina, who left before McGuckin's arrest. The other children are Kathryn, 16, Mary, 13, James, 11, Frederick, 9, and Jane, 8.
Trochmann said it is understandable that the children had refused to leave their home. The mother left Tuesday when deputies set up a ruse, promising her financial aid if she accompanied them to make a phone call, then arrested her, he noted.
"They had just put their father in the ground shortly before," he said. "When Mom never comes back, what are the children supposed to think?"