PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — On a patch of beaten down grass ringed by orange plastic fencing, a small, tired-looking woman talked into the television cameras Saturday afternoon, begging for her child's life.
"My daughter is in the building behind me, starving to death," said Mary Schindler, mother of Terri Schiavo, standing outside Woodside Hospice.
"We laughed together, we smiled together, we talked together. She is my life," Schindler said. "I am begging Gov. [Jeb] Bush and the politicians in Tallahassee, President Bush, the politicians in Washington: "Please, please, please save my little girl."
Late Saturday evening, Suzanne Vitadamo, Schiavo's sister, visited her in her hospice room, and said afterward that her eyes were glassy and that she had started to run a fever.
As the 41-year-old Schiavo began her second day without a feeding tube, politicians in the state capital and Washington were continuing to debate her fate.
On the lawn in front of the hospice, a complex of low brick buildings, supporters of Schiavo prayed and sang "The Old Rugged Cross" and other hymns, staging a mostly quiet vigil.
"God, you know the plight we're in with our sister in there," the Rev. Ed Martin of Ocala, Fla., told a morning prayer service. "Lord, we're asking now for a miracle."
"She smiles, she is alive," said Natalie Gandolfo, 62, an insurance agent from Oakdale, N.Y., who gave up a day of her winter vacation to join the demonstration on Schiavo's behalf. "My father used to be in a nursing home and not capable of doing much, and they didn't take his life," said Gandolfo. "What's the difference?"
Ronald Brock, 66, who described himself as a "missionary to the preborn," drove from Winchester, Calif., to this town on Florida's Gulf Coast in a truck he decorated with signs saying "stop the insanity" and quotes from the Bible. Removing Schiavo's feeding tube, he said, proves that the severely disabled are as much at risk as a fetus whose parents are considering an abortion.
"I'm here because Terri represents a new category of people whose lives they are starting to say have no value," said Brock, a bearded man who wore a cap painted with a white cross. "When I was young, they had stories about the Good Samaritan and how we should help people in trouble. Now we're told we should kill them."
Shortly before 11 a.m., James. G. "Bo" Gritz, a former Green Beret commander and prominent member of a militant antigovernment movement, was arrested when he entered the hospice's driveway carrying a cup of water that he said was for Schiavo. A phalanx of police blocked his path. "I wouldn't leave anyone on the battlefield," he told the officers.
Police Lt. Kevin Riley informed Gritz that hospice personnel wanted him off the premises and that if he didn't leave, he'd be arrested. When Gritz didn't budge, he was, along with another man carrying a cup of water, Leon Riche, 61, of Lawton, N.D., and David A. Vogel, 47, of Wintersville, Ohio, who said he wanted to give Holy Communion to Schiavo.
Capt. Sanfield Forseth, spokesman for Pinellas Park Police, said the men could be charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor offense that could be punished by a fine or less than a year in jail.
Following the arrests, a Roman Catholic friar who has been serving as spiritual advisor to Mary Schindler and her husband, Bob, communicated their request for no further lawbreaking.
"Please no civil disobedience," said Brother Paul O'Donnell. "They want things to be prayerful and peaceful." The parents asked that anyone seeking to display support for them engage in "prayer and vigil" outside the hospice, he said.
The church has taken up the Schindlers' cause, and on Friday, as Schiavo's feeding tube was being withdrawn, a correspondent from Vatican Radio was present along with dozens of other journalists.
By mid-afternoon Saturday, there were about 50 people demonstrating on Schiavo's behalf outside the hospice. After dark, about three dozen of those keeping vigil bedded down on the lawn for the night.
Randall Terry, founder of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue, was brought in by the Schindlers to try to mobilize public and political support for their daughter. He reminded their supporters that in 2003, the gastric tube that has been Schiavo's sole source of food and water was disconnected until the Florida Legislature passed a special law empowering the governor to have it restored.
"The first time it happened it was six days, and there was intervention," said Terry. "We've been here before, and Terri's life was sustained, and we believe that her life will be sustained again."
A handful of people voicing support for the ruling by state Circuit Judge George W. Greer kept mostly to the other side of the street. He ruled that Schiavo, who suffered brain damage when she stopped breathing for minutes in 1990, should be taken off the feeding tube.
Schiavo's husband has said that she did not wish to be kept alive through artificial means.