Thursday, March 24, 2005

From combined dispatches

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — Fourteen-year-old Josie Keys and her two young brothers knelt before a row of sheriff’s deputies, cradling cups of water they hoped to give to Terri Schiavo.

They were among 10 protesters arrested yesterday for trespassing on the grounds of Woodside Hospice, which has become a place of religious pilgrimage since the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube was removed under court order last Friday.

“Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do to the least of men, you do for me,’” said Josie, whose family drove 24 hours from Burnet, Texas, to be a part of the vigil. “I’m a little nervous, but I think this is what God wants me to do.”

Josie; her father, Chris; and her two brothers, Cameron, 12, and Gabriel, 10, were immediately handcuffed as they tried to move past the deputies into the hospice and were loaded into the back of a sheriff’s van.

The children’s mother, Gaylen, said she did not encourage them to be arrested. “They are burdened for Terri. … I feel confident this is the right thing to do.”

First in line to be arrested was 69-year-old Eva Edl of Aiken, S.C. She drew upon her experiences as a 9-year-old in the former Yugoslavia, when she and other ethnic Germans were thrown into a communist concentration camp.

“I know what Terri feels, because I was in the process of being starved to death,” she said as she balanced her cup of water on her Bible. “If it had not been for people willing to risk their lives to smuggle food to me, I would not be alive. … And I believe that God kept me alive to have the opportunity to help somebody else,” she said. As she was led away by deputies, she tearfully pleaded, “Let me at least put some cool water on her lips.”

Whether heeding a religious call to arms or simply the tug of their own hearts, religious people from across the country have descended on Woodside to pray and plead for Mrs. Schiavo’s life

Behind an orange hurricane fence hung with dead and dying roses, votive candles burn on a table adorned with a picture of the Virgin Mary. As cameras roll, people wave signs reading, “Plz don’t give up on what God gave you,” “God’s Law Will Prevail” and “Thou Shalt not Kill.”

Franciscan friars in black robes tied with white ropes mill about, escorting Mrs. Schiavo’s parents and siblings between the news media throng and a makeshift headquarters across from the hospice.

But not everybody was motivated by religion. Eleanor Smith of Decatur, Ga., sat Tuesday in a motorized wheelchair in front of the hospice, with a sign on her lap reading, “This agnostic liberal says ‘Feed Terri.’ ”

Miss Smith, 65, had polio as a child and described herself as a lesbian and a liberal who had demonstrated before in support of the disabled and causes supported by conservatives’ archenemy, the American Civil Liberties Union.

“What drew me here is the horror of the idea of starving someone to death who’s vulnerable and who has not asked that to happen,” she said. “At this point, I would rather have a right-wing Christian decide my fate than an ACLU member.”

Several protesters sported black ribbons around their upper arms, signifying that they are fasting in solidarity with Mrs. Schiavo.

After a federal judge declined Tuesday to order the woman’s feeding tube restored, the Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition asked those gathered to pray that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta would be “stirred” to act.

However, the 11th Circuit refused yesterday.

Dave Daubenmire says he was sitting in church Sunday in Hebron, Ohio, when the spirit suddenly moved him to come to Florida.

A man in the congregation wrote him a $716 check on the spot and told him: “We need you down there.”

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