Ten years later, officials remember 'Roby Ridge' standoff

 
 
Published: 9/17/2007 7:27 AM

ROBY -- It was the longest standoff in Illinois State Police history, lasting 39 days and costing nearly $650,000. By the time the dust settled, a 51-year-old widow had held troopers at bay with a shotgun, shot and wounded a police dog, and thwarted a tear gas attack by smearing her face with petroleum jelly.

Ten years later, officials involved told the Springfield State Journal-Register that the standoff in this tiny central Illinois community taught them valuable lessons about dealing with the mentally ill.

On the eve of the standoff's ten-year anniversary, Shirley Allen still lives in her small green home _ a friend says she hasn't left for nine years. Family and friends take care of her basic needs but say she has become even more withdrawn over the past decade.

"It's interesting from the human dynamics standpoint," said Mike Beagles, former state police lieutenant and Allen's longtime friend. "I see people in nursing homes in the same situation she's in getting better care but not living as independently."

Allen's brother, Byron Dugger, declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press at his home Sunday afternoon.

The standoff in this neighborhood about 20 miles southeast of Springfield unfolded on Sept. 22, 1997, after a Christian County judge ordered sheriff's deputies to bring Allen in for a psychiatric evaluation after her family became worried about her increasingly erratic behavior.

Allen refused to go quietly, and then-patrol officer Dick Mahan called in state police after forcing his way into her home and finding himself on the wrong end of her shotgun.

Over the next six weeks, state police tried a little of everything _ bringing in negotiators, blasting Allen's favorite music over loudspeakers and cutting off her electricity, gas, heat and phone.

Terry Gainer, who led the state police at the time, said he doesn't have any regrets about how the situation was handled, despite widespread criticism that authorities overreacted.

Allen called it a "siege." And government critics dubbed it "Roby Ridge" after the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff with the FBI that left three people dead in Idaho.

"You probably could have ended this in two days by kicking the doors in, lobbing some stun grenades and getting into a shootout with her," Gainer said. "I think that wasn't necessary. I didn't support that, and I didn't allow it. I know some of my own troops were probably less than ecstatic with that decision, but we decided to stay the course."