Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Protesters Sing, Pray as Media, Police Watch Grim Scene; Signs Express Opposing Views as Fight to Save Woman's Life Continues

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Protesters Sing, Pray as Media, Police Watch Grim Scene; Signs Express Opposing Views as Fight to Save Woman's Life Continues

Article excerpt

Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING, Capital Bureau Chief

PINELLAS PARK -- Terri Schiavo slipped toward death Wednesday surrounded by a surreal scene of helicopters and singing protesters under a gray sky pierced with satellite antennas, as governments scrambled far away to save her.

The Florida Senate's 21-18 vote not to intervene devastated a crowd of about 60 protesters camped outside Hospice House Woodside in Pinellas Park. News of the late-afternoon vote quickened the pace of praying, singing and chanting. One group huddled together over a cheap boombox to hear the latest news from Tallahassee.

"It's near the end, this is serious now," said Tammy Acosta-Stanbrough, a Jacksonville native who drove to Florida from her Iowa home Saturday. "I've followed this for years, and I want to scream."

Clusters of signs, some with Schiavo's name misspelled, sprinkled the scene in a commercial/industrial neighborhood near a shopping center. The signs veered from placid messages such as "Feed Her" to condemnations such as "Murder in Progress."

Some signs referred to Hitler and Auschwitz, while others supported the opposing views such as "Honor Her Wishes" and "Keep Congress Out of My Hospital Bed."

Children wandered through the clumps of protesters, some clinging to their parents while others helped out by hoisting signs and beating drums. Two men wore priest robes. Several men carried massive crucifixes. One man strummed gospel songs on a guitar. Group prayers and songs filled the air.

Dirk Yount drove from Dayton, Ohio, 1 1/2 weeks ago with his wife and 2-year-old daughter.

"The Lord led us down here and made our way," he said.

Across a small street, an equally strong crowd of media watched. About a dozen tents lined alleys and trucks with massive broadcasting towers parked nearby.

Police watched it all from the entrance to the facility where Schiavo has gone without food or water since Friday.

Not all protesters were on Terri Schiavo's side. Many supported her husband, Michael Schiavo, who has said he is following her stated wishes.

Sherry Baula of St. Petersburg, a former trauma nurse, held a sign that read "Right to Life, and Right to Death."

"We're the silent majority," she said. "We don't have any theatrics so we don't get on film and we think this has gotten far too political. This is a personal dispute, and the last place it belongs is Congress."

Next to her stood Pat Ellis, a retired nursing home aide from St. Petersburg, who quit her job in 1985 and started driving to Tallahassee to help legislators pass more compassionate end-of-life laws.

Ellis played a role in efforts being led at that time by state Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, then a state House member.

"Patients couldn't refuse a feeding tube in 1985, and I was having to torture people because of that," she said. …

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