It was a sad Easter for Robert and Mary Schindler and their daughter, Terri,
the 40-year-old brain-disabled Florida woman whose estranged husband,
Michael Schiavo, is trying to end her life by removing her feeding tube.
There was no basket of pretty things chosen and brought to her by her loving
mother, no fluffy toy bunny, no sweet-smelling flowers, and no Holy
Communion. Indeed, she’s not allowed to see her parents or her priest at
Although she is not able to talk and no one knows how aware she is of her
surroundings, Terri may well wonder and worry why two weeks ago her parents
and siblings suddenly stopped coming to see her. She’ll not understand that
Schiavo, who as her legal guardian can exert absolute control over
her, has forbidden her family from visiting even at Easter, pending the
outcome of a police investigation over mysterious “needle marks” in her arm
that is taking far longer than expected.
For the Schindlers it was the strangest Easter they’d ever experienced: a
far cry from the joyful family celebrations remembered from decades past.
Robert Schindler, 65, told WorldNetDaily that as a young wife and mother in
Philadelphia, Mary always “went to extremes” to make all the holidays
memorable for their three children — Theresa Marie (“Terri”), the oldest,
and her brother and sister, Bobby and Suzanne. But since the Schindlers are
Roman Catholic, Christmas and Easter are especially important.
“At Easter our house would smell of hyacinths and Easter lilies,” Schindler
said. “Everywhere you looked would be an Easter ornament and all sorts of
candies. Each of our children received Easter baskets.”
It was a time to “dress up and pig-out,” is how he puts it. “Everyone had
given up something for Lent so by the time Easter rolled around we had
pretty healthy appetites.”
There would be new dresses for the girls, a new suit for Bobby. After High
Mass on Sunday the entire family — aunts, uncles, grandparents, young and
old — gathered for a feast followed by a free-for-all Easter egg hunt, in
which grownups joined the kids in a search for dozens of colored eggs.
“To this day, depending on the holiday, Mary still adorns the house with the
appropriate decorations in preparation for the upcoming festive occasion,”
A continued tradition
Terri responding to her mother from video clip on Terrisfight.org
And for the past 14 years, no matter where Terri is living, Mary has
continued this tradition to make her daughter’s immediate surroundings as
pretty and pleasant as possible. This isn’t something Mary does solely for
personal gratification: it has a therapeutic value for Terri. To regain
brain function Terri needs sensory stimulation — changes in what she looks
at, bright colors, new shapes, and people bustling about and chatting to her
like her mother does. Without that kind of stimulation her chances for
improvement are significantly decreased.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Terri collapsed under unexplained circumstances
in February 1990 at the age of 26. Oxygen to her brain was cut off for
several minutes, leaving her severely brain-disabled and dependant upon a
feeding tube for sustenance.
Schiavo insists his wife told him years before her collapse that she would
never want to be kept alive “through artificial means,” and four years ago
he convinced probate Judge George Greer to allow him to remove her feeding
tube so she would die. But her parents do not believe Terri made the statements
attributed to her, and through a series of legal maneuvers have managed to
keep the case and their daughter alive. Their options appeared to have run
out last year when the 2nd District Court of Appeal made a final ruling in
Schiavo’s favor and the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
In October, Terri endured six days without nourishment and hydration before
Florida lawmakers passed “Terri’s Law” that allowed Gov. Jeb Bush to
intervene and order her feeding tube reinserted, an action immediately
challenged by Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, a well-known “right-to-die”
advocate. That case is being litigated. If the appeal court strikes down
Terri’s Law as unconstitutional, her feeding tube could be removed again.
Terri at hospice
According to the Schindlers, for 10 years following her collapse Terri was
well looked after in the nursing homes Schiavo selected. Then in April 2000,
shortly before Easter, he had her transferred surreptitiously and without
court authorization from Palm Garden Nursing Home to Woodside Hospice of
Pinellas Park, a facility owned by the Hospice of the Florida Sun Coast, a
Usually, to be admitted to a hospice, a patient must be terminally ill and in
the final stages of an incurable disease — which Terri certainly wasn’t, nor
is she to this day. But Felos was on the board of hospice and made the
Her family protested the move, calling it a kidnapping, and demanded her
return to the nursing home, but Judge Greer upheld it and Terri had to stay
where she was placed.
That was four years ago. In mid-December, Woodside began a massive
renovation project and its several hundred patients were placed in temporary
quarters scattered throughout Pinellas County. Terri and 18 other
patients were moved into rooms on the fourth floor of Park Place in
Clearwater. Because Park Place is an assisted living facility and doesn’t
have a nursing staff, Woodside is providing the nurses and caregivers to
look after the hospice patients.
The Schindlers claim that since the move, Terri’s custodial care has
deteriorated. Mary complains that her hair is washed infrequently and is
allowed to become greasy. She is not being kept washed and clean. Recently
she lost two teeth — hardly a surprise since Schiavo has never allowed
dental care and the teeth in question had become black before breaking off.
The Schindlers are kept in the dark as to what became of the teeth. Did they
fall out of her mouth or did Terri swallow them? No one will say.
Worse, Terri developed a bedsore on her buttocks, the first she’d ever had.
The Schindlers do not know if it has healed or gotten worse. A bedsore, if
left untreated and allowed to fester, can be fatal.
Then there was the mysterious bout of vomiting over Valentines Day weekend,
Which prompted the Schindlers’ attorney, Patricia Anderson, to file a “show cause”
motion, demanding that Schiavo be held in contempt of court for
non-compliance with a 1996 court
order that mandates he keep them informed of changes in their daughter’s
medical condition — something he has never done.
Nor does it seem he will ever have to. As WND
reported on Monday, Mar. 29, following a Friday hearing and a weekend
of mulling, Greer denied the Schindlers’ motion and refused to hold Schiavo
in contempt of the court order.
‘Round-the-clock armed guard
Yet despite an observed deterioration in Terri’s overall care, since October
the hospice has been spending big bucks for a 24-hour armed guard in compliance
with Schiavo’s demands. The guard is composed of off-duty officers of the
Clearwater Police Department, at the rate of $25 per hour per officer.
Assuming only one guard is on duty during an eight-hour shift, the tab at
Park Side comes to over $70,000. The total cost of police services since
October has been estimated at over $125,000.
The Schindlers must sign in when they arrive and leave. All packages,
handbags, backpacks are left with the guard. Cameras, cell phones,
audio-recorders are strictly forbidden. Recently Mary was told she couldn’t
bring in a bottle of lotion to smooth on Terri’s skin.
Terri is not allowed to be taken from her room, not even for a wheelchair
ride down the corridor. She is forbidden contact with the other patients and
may not attend the many social events Park Side offers.
Schiavo says these measures are necessary to protect her privacy.
It was like this for her at Woodside. There were no outings, no visitors
other than her family. It’s a drab existence, except for the cheer her
family is able to provide — and now that’s been cut off.
Terri’s room at Park Place is particularly bleak. Her room at Woodside had
more furnishings and was on the ground floor so there was something she
could look at through the window. Here, apart from her bed and a special
chair she can sit in, the room has no furniture. There are no pictures, no
shelves for ornaments, not even chairs for visitors. When they visit, the
Schindlers have to borrow a chair from the nursing station in the next room
or perch on the edge of the bed.
It’s not an easy setting to beautify, but despite drawbacks Mary has managed
to bring in decorations that are changed with the seasons so her daughter
will have a modicum of visual stimulation; something to look at besides bare
For Easter — “I’ll take flowers, hyacinths, since Terri likes their smell,”
she told WND. “And of course a basket and new bunny rabbit.”
That didn’t happen. This year Terri would wait in vain for a glimpse of her
mother’s smile and “happy Easter” and her father’s cheerful, “Hi, honey. How’re you doing?”
Schiavo’s ban on visitors was prompted, he said, by an alleged discovery of
needle marks on Terri’s arms in the late afternoon of Mar. 29, supposedly
following a visit by the Schindlers. How this was accomplished when there
was an armed guard at the door watching the Schindlers’ every move is not
The allegations were made about the time the Schindlers and other parties
received word of Greer’s order denying the parents’ motion to hold Michael
Schiavo in contempt of court.
Upon learning of the incident from his client, attorney Felos hurriedly sent
a statement to the media that came just short of charging the Schindlers
with deliberately hurting their daughter.
“Schiavo Puncture Wounds Found After Parents’ Visit,” the headline on the
press release screamed.
The text said that “immediately after” a 45-minute visit, “medical
personnel” discovered “numerous wounds, five of them apparently caused by a
hypodermic needle,” on the incapacitated woman.
It further declared that “Mrs. Schiavo was found in a disheveled state with
her feeding tube wrapped around her back and an allergy band pulled up very
tight on her arm like a tourniquet. On one arm were four fresh puncture
wounds with another fresh puncture wound on her other arm. Also found were
fresh scratch wounds, over the puncture wounds as if an attempt were made to
conceal the puncture wounds.”
A purple needle cap was said to have been found “in Mrs. Schiavo’s gown,
confirming the belief that the puncture wounds were caused by a hypodermic
needle.” It was not known whether something was injected into Terri or
“fluids were withdrawn from her.”
Terri was whisked away in an ambulance to Morton Plan Hospital for
toxicology testing and blood work.
“A forensics team has examined the crime scene, and the Clearwater Police
are investigating,” Felos’ statement continued, and concluded with the
announcement that “Mrs. Schiavo’s husband and guardian has issued orders
stopping all persons from visiting his wife until the police investigation
The media engaged in a two-day feeding frenzy and the Clearwater Police
Department was flooded with phone calls.
“Somebody put a needle into Terri Schiavo on numerous occasions,” Felos told
Bay-News 9. “It’s our position that that constitutes a criminal assault on
her body. We want to know who did this and why it was done.”
Felos told the St. Petersburg Times he had not seen the marks, but received
his information from Schiavo. “Maybe one of their quack doctors told them
[the Schindlers], ‘Here, we have a substance that can help Terri get better,
but it has to be injected,” he said.
The media began contacting the Schindlers as soon as they received the press
release. Robert – stunned by the news – told WTSP-Channel 10 he was
disgusted by the innuendo. Yes, he had been at Park Side that afternoon, but
there was nothing wrong with Terri when he left. No, he most certainly had
not put a needle in her arm.
Terri’s physician, Dr. Stanton Tripodis, summoned to her bedside Monday
evening, told the St. Petersburg Times he was not “100 percent sure” the
marks were caused by a needle.
“It could be that the skin was broken, maybe by someone’s fingernail or
jewelry,” he said. “There was just an unusual appearance to these marks.”
Clearwater Police spokesperson Wayne Shelor told WorldNetDaily the department had been
contacted by “someone at the nursing home” [he could not recall by whom]
about 6 p.m. Mar. 29, but as of Mar. 31 the investigators had found no
evidence of a crime. He took apparent exception to certain phrases in the
“We’re conducting an inquiry,” Shelor said. “I wouldn’t call it a criminal
investigation. We’ve been interviewing people and gathering information.”
He said that the Clearwater PD doesn’t have a forensic team, and “since we
haven’t any defined crime yet, there’s no crime scene either.”
Terri was returned to the Park Place the day following her rush to Morton
Plant. The toxicology tests came back negative. The media lost interest and
Meanwhile, Terri remains isolated and even more alone.
Criminal charges ahead?
Because the Schindlers could face criminal charges, George Tragos, a
prominent criminal attorney, stepped into the fray as soon as he learned of
the allegations and offered his services at no cost. He has directed the
family and their spokesperson Pamela Hennessey not to discuss the case with
the media, and fields press inquiries himself.
Tragos told WorldNetDaily there were two reasons he took on the case pro
bono publico, that is, for the public good.
“The first is that I don’t believe they should take the feeding tube out of
Terri and starve her to death,” he said. “The second reason is that I was
outraged by the fact that someone issued a press release like that at the
beginning of a possible criminal investigation.”
Tragos said he had “no idea” how Terri received the marks, but then “that’s
not my job to find out.” He pointedly remarked that he hadn’t seen them,
“because they don’t let anybody in to look at them.”
One thing he’s sure of: The Schindlers weren’t responsible. “The idea that
her parents would stick needles in her is absurd,” he declared. He views the
entire action as a “publicity ploy.”
Attorney Patricia Anderson, who represents the Schindlers in their effort to
get Schiavo removed as guardian or at very least to obey the rules, also has
serious doubts about the validity of the needle marks story.
“I don’t really think she had marks on her arm,” Anderson said bluntly. “I
think the whole thing was a stunt, an excuse to cut off visitation. That’s
what it’s all about. The second-day coverage on this story was, ‘Well, maybe
they’re not puncture wounds, maybe they were caused by jewelry.’”
Anderson cited several inaccuracies in the press release — such as the way
Terri was supposedly dressed when her parents left.
“You know that business about finding a purple [hypodermic] cap in her
gown?” she asked, “Well, she wasn’t in a gown. When [the Schindlers] left,
[Terri] was in street clothes. She was perfectly fine and sitting up in her
chair. She was missing two teeth, but she was not disheveled; she was not in
a hospital gown. This is a stunt.”
Anderson’s skepticism is shared by Terri’s many supporters, who are
convinced that the crackdown on visitation is a ploy to detach the
defenseless woman from her family, which in turn would cause her condition
Cheryl Ford, a registered nurse with 25 years of experience in the medical
profession, is particularly infuriated by the situation at Park Place and
Terri’s isolation. In recent weeks she’s sent out volleys of news about
Terri via the Internet and helped organize demonstrations at Park Side to
focus public attention on the decline in her health and level of care.
Ford sees the needle-mark issue as a diversionary tactic, intended to direct
attention away from the real issue of overall neglect by dumping a load of blame
and accusations on the Schindlers.
“They are victims who are forced to watch their daughter die,” Ford told
WND. “They should be out on a Sunday with her, enjoying life. Michael
[Schiavo] is out with his girlfriend and their two kids. All [the
Schindlers] want is to take this little disabled woman out of her room and
take care of her during their retirement years. But they’re not allowed to.”
“We’ve got to stop this. Not just for Terri, but for ourselves. And if we
don’t, we’re as guilty as the Nazis that sat there and let those people go
to the gas chambers. We have to take responsibility — that’s heavy-duty
Ford said she was on the phone with Mary Schindler the Monday when Mary
received word her daughter had puncture marks on her arms.
“Do you know what that mother sounded like?” Ford exclaimed. “I’m surprised
she didn’t have a stroke! Her daughter’s got wounds all over her, but
she’s not allowed to go to the hospital to see her?”
Ford was incensed, and she’s not one to mince words. “You don’t have a right
to keep family members out of a hospital room,” she stated emphatically.
“I’ve been in the medical profession for 25 years, and when a father or
mother or someone gets sick, everybody in the family swarms to the
hospital in a panic.”
Ford said she became involved in the movement to save Terri last October
when she visited the weeklong vigil at Woodside Hospice during the
Neglect of an incapacitated person is a particularly heinous crime, and Ford
hopes enough public pressure can be mustered that public officials – such
as state attorney Bernie McCabe or the Department of Children and Families
or Gov. Jeb Bush – will step in and place Terri immediately in
“Why does this vulnerable woman have to be treated like a caged animal – instead of the beautiful young person that she is?” Ford would like to know.
Ford urges anyone interested in helping Terri to contact her by e-mail.
In-depth nformation, including court filings, are posted on the Schindler family