Diary of a vigil

Published March 26, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - Steven Sakac stood in front of the Hospice House Woodside, holding his severely handicapped son, Tony, in his arms. He asked a reporter to get him in touch with a lawyer so he could bring his son into court and prove that "people with brain damage can survive."

Sakac wiped his son's mouth and struggled under the weight of the 31-year-old man. He described how his son got sick in 1990 and doctors declared him brain dead. And how he nursed his son to the point where he can do simple things like move his feet.

"Move your feet, Tony," Sakac told his son.

Moments later, Bobby Schindler emerged from the hospice after visiting his sister.

Sakac called out to him, and Schindler threaded his way through the crowd.

Sakac, who lives with his son in Fairfax, Va., told Schindler his story and offered to help.

"I would love for the judge to see your son," Schindler said. "We're waiting for a decision from the appellate court. I'll keep you in mind."

"I don't understand why this is happening," Sakac said.

"I don't understand either," Schindler replied. "But thank you for coming. I'm glad you're here."

* * *

After Scott Heldreth's 10-year-old son, Joshua, was arrested for trespassing, several people pushed through the crowd to hug the proud dad. "He's a young man of God," Heldreth said, beaming. Not everyone shared his view.

Ray Simmons began arguing with Heldreth, saying he had fought in the Gulf War in 1990 and '91 and had seen Iraqi children used as human shields or to carry explosives. "I'm pro-life," Simmons said. "But these are cowards using children as a weapon."

Simmons later spoke with Bobby Schindler and asked him to request that parents discourage their children from being arrested. "Hopefully," Schindler said later, "it'll stay peaceful from now on."

* * *

Surrounded by reporters and photographers, Bob Schindler, Terri's father, went inside to visit his daughter at 10 a.m. He emerged 20 minutes later and made no statement. Terri's bother and sister also visited twice in the afternoon.

* * *

News trucks, cars filled with sightseers and a rusty pickup filled with scrap metal made up most of the slow parade along 102nd Avenue, a two-lane road that passes in front of the hospice. A tan van towing a nearly life-size statue of the crucifixion stopped briefly to ask directions. An SUV behind the van honked. On the back of the SUV a bumper sticker said: Jesus Is My Homeboy.

* * *

"Are there any standup comedians here?" Schindler family spokesman Randall Terry asked a huge circle of reporters who had been waiting for Bob Schindler to address the media. No reporters came forward, but a protester standing on the fringe shouted, "It's Good Friday, Randall. Have some respect."