Paper: Fla. officials made attempt to take custody of Schiavo

PINNELLAS PARK, Fla. (BP)--For days now, pro-lifers have urged Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush to ignore a judge's ruling and have Terri Schiavo taken into custody. Apparently, such an attempt already took place.

The Miami Herald reported Easter Sunday that agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were en route to take custody of the 41-year-old disabled woman March 24 when they learned that local police stationed outside of Schiavo's hospice were not going to let them in. The state agents -- acting on behalf of the Department of Children and Families -- backed down, fearing a constitutional crisis, The Herald reported.

The local law officers were following a judge's order preventing the seizure of Schiavo. The DCF was acting on behalf of its power under the state's adult protection law. The action could have resulted in dueling law officers, according to The Herald.

"We told them that unless they had the judge with them when they came, they were not going to get in," a source told the newspaper.

But even if the DCF had taken custody of Schiavo, that may not have resulted in the reinsertion of her feeding tube.

Officials at Morton Plant Hospital said that when news broke that Schiavo might possibly be taken into custody, they were studying Florida law to see what they lawfully could do. In order to re-insert the tube, Schiavo would have been taken from the hospice to a hospital -- possibly Moron Plant.

"Hospital officials were working with their legal counsel, and their advisers, trying to figure out which order superseded which, and what action they should take," a source told the paper.

Responding to criticism that he hasn't done enough, Bush told CNN on Easter that his hands are tied.

"I'm sad that she's in the situation that she's in. I feel bad for her family. My heart goes out to the Schindlers [Schiavo's parents] and, for that matter, to [her husband] Michael," Bush told CNN. "This has not been an easy thing for any, any member of the family. But most particularly for Terri Schiavo."

Meanwhile, protesters outside the hospice continue to speak out in support of Schiavo. Under gray skies on Easter Sunday, the hospice site brightened briefly with the comforting words of a retired military chaplain who reminded worshipers, "Jesus is risen today."

Still fresh from a visit with Schiavo, the retired chaplain Thaddeus Malanowski gathered about 150 supporters of various Christian faiths at 4 p.m. to join in an Easter celebration turned somber by the fact that Schiavo lay dying in the hospice.

Her brother, Bobby Schindler Jr., and her sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, were joined in the service by other family members. Mary and Bob Schindler, Schiavo's parents, stayed in seclusion for most of the day.

Speaking on the 10th day Schiavo has been without food and water, Malanowski seemed resigned to the idea that her "death is imminent." Still, he told reporters later, "You know, anything can happen. A miracle can happen."

The worship service took place in an area cordoned off by orange plastic fencing where a makeshift altar was set with a white tablecloth and a large gleaming gold cross. Two small children were dwarfed by a three-foot-high wooden cross bearing a likeness of Jesus. A guitarist played hymns and provided background music for the priest who chanted and preached the account of the resurrection from the Gospel of John.

Schiavo and her family are Catholic.

"Our faith, your faith, my faith in a resurrected Lord, begins at a cemetery," Malanowski recounted, describing the encounter of the empty tomb. "Jesus is risen today. So will we when we meet our maker. Go forward to carry this Good News to people -- Jesus is alive!"

Turning his attention toward Schiavo's plight, Malanowski said it had been a "great joy" to visit with Schiavo on Easter and to be allowed to personally administer communion in the form of consecrated wine -- which Catholics believe becomes the blood of Christ -- on resurrection day.

"Life is precious from the moment of conception until natural death," Malanowski preached. "That's not what's happening to Terri."

Signs dampened by rain and humidity were crumpled on the trampled grass where hundreds, probably thousands have passed in the days since Schiavo's feeding tube was pulled March 18.

In the 10 days since Schiavo's starvation began, a variety of mostly Catholic and evangelical Protestant supporters have made their way to the hospice. Some pray and sing quietly, as the Schindler family has repeatedly asked, and some have made the choice to express their opinions loudly through preaching, praying and chanting.

One female supporter Sunday dressed in clothes typical of those who practice the Muslim faith. Days earlier, one young Jewish man held a sign that read, "Jews for Terri."

A few supporters of Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband and legal guardian, have made sporadic appearances.

At the conclusion of a press conference Easter Sunday, one protestor held a sign, "Let Terri rest," waving it in front of a pro-life sign. When the woman holding the pro-life sign moved his sign out of the way, the young man pushed her, causing a ruckus while the media looked on.

Standing at one far end of the supporter's pen with the sound of "El Shadi" playing over a portable sound system, Waldo and Diana Hernandez faced each other and held hands to pray quietly.

"There are many different ways for people to express their views," Waldo Hernandez told the Florida Baptist Witness. "God is sovereign and He calls some to do preaching and others do what we are doing."

Hernandez said he and his wife have read about Schiavo's situation in the news and feel it would be wrong to take her life.

"We believe only God has the power over life and death," Hernandez said.

John Vincent, a member of New Banklick Baptist Church in Independence, Ky., said he was so disturbed about what is being done to Ti that he traveled to Florida with his 73-year-old father.

"It's a horrible situation," the younger Vincent said, while helping his father to walk around the site. "Terri is being starved to death right here."

Wearing a colorful straw hat, 82-year-old Angela Remis said she is embarrassed that her priest at St. Francis of Assisi in Englewood, Fla., has never spoken to churchgoers about Schiavo's right to life.

"The people don't know," she said, bright eyes sparkling.

Turning to introduce her 39-year-old son, Matthew, who has Down's syndrome, Remis said she has been "blessed" by his life and is fearful Schiavo's starvation is a portend of things to come.

Matthew Remis, stopping to be in a photo with his mother, confirmed he received an Easter basket with chocolate that morning.

"But Terri hasn't had anything to eat for a long time," Remis said matter-of-factly. "They are not letting her eat."

Angela Remis said she and her husband couldn't have imagined the joy Matthew would bring into their lives when he was born.

"People just don't understand," Remis said.

Meanwhile, at an Easter news conference, a family spokesperson said the Schindlers are still hopeful there is time to save Schiavo.

Earlier, family attorney David Gibbs III told the CBS News program "Face the Nation" that Schiavo would most likely not recover from her ordeal at this point. Doctors have predicted she will die 7-14 days after her feeding tube is removed.

In the news conference, however, a family spokesperson said they are not ready to throw in the towel and believe Schiavo is still alert and responsive and can recover.


Based on reporting by Joni B. Hannigan, managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

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