tampabay.com

Protesters invite arrest

Outside Terri Schiavo's hospice, young and old make symbolic gestures. In Seminole,

By ALEX LEARY and TOM ZUCCO
Published March 26, 2005


a genuine threat is thwarted.

PINELLAS PARK - Cradling a cup of water, the 10-year-old boy emerged from the phalanx of protesters.

He'd come to quench Terri Schiavo's thirst.

Go back, the policeman warned. The boy refused.

With a proud father looking on, the officer handcuffed the boy and led him away.

"He's a young man of God," Scott Heldreth said of his son, who wore a black T-shirt that said Jesus Christ.

The arrest of Joshua Heldreth was one of at least 10 on Friday outside Hospice House Woodside, where Schiavo lay.

Like those earlier this week, none of Friday's arrests resulted in violence. The protesters told police what they were going to do, made a symbolic offering of help and went to jail, charged with trespassing.

Authorities were far more concerned about a man who did not make it to the hospice.

Thursday night, Pinellas County sheriff's deputies arrested a 20-year-old Illinois man on charges of entering a Seminole gun shop and, armed with a box cutter, demanded the owner fill a backpack with weapons.

"He told me he would take any guns he could and go rescue Terri Schiavo," said Randall McKenzie, owner of Randall's Firearms Inc. "At that point I knew he was a little bit whacked."

McKenzie said the man, identified as Michael W. Mitchell, put his knee into a glass display and removed a .454-caliber handgun, the most powerful in the store. McKenzie drew his semiautomatic and ordered Mitchell to the floor.

"He laid down on the floor and pleaded for me not to shoot him, then he got up and ran out the front door."

Mitchell sped off in a white Chevrolet Astro Van, deputies say.

He was stopped a short while later and charged with armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, criminal mischief and grand theft.

Officials with the Sheriff's Office and the Pinellas Park Police Department said they were ready should anyone make a similarly dramatic attempt to free Schiavo.

"This has been an ongoing, emotional conflict and it affects different people different ways. We're prepared for any number of scenarios," sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said.

Mostly, protesters have maintained decorum. "They've been very cooperative," said Capt. Sanfield Forseth of the Pinellas Park Police Depatment.

More than 20 people have been arrested, many from out of state, including six children. Scott Heldreth insisted it was his son's idea to drive from their home in Charlotte, N.C., to help Schiavo.

Some were not convinced.

Another protester, Ray Simmons, began arguing with Heldreth, saying he had fought in the Gulf War and had seen Iraqi children used as human shields.

"I'm prolife and I don't want to see her (Schiavo) die." Simmons said. "But these are cowards using children as a weapon."

Heldreth's son was released from the juvenile detention center shortly after his arrest, the same treatment other children received. Adults were booked into the county jail, fingerprinted and photographed.

Among them was John McDougall, the former Lee County sheriff who is an outspoken right-to-life activist. Several others belong to the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. In court Thursday, prosecutors pushed for stiffer punishment for the group's leader, Philip "Flip" Benham, citing his previous arrests for trespassing.

Another member, Chris Keys, had his fine increased to $500 from $300 after prosecutors noted his history. He also got six months probation.

Keys, 45, of Burnet, Texas, said he has been arrested more than 30 times for protesting. Three of his children were also arrested on Wednesday. They were ordered not to return to the hospice. So the family drove Friday to Tallahassee to join demonstrators there.

At a time when hordes of college students head to Florida for spring break, 22-year-old Joseph Parente on Monday packed his 1992 Honda Accord and set off on the 24-hour trek from Pittsburgh. The Web designer was arrested Wednesday morning after trying to bring water to Schiavo.

While in jail, he said, he came across spring breakers who had been arrested for drug possession or public intoxication. He saw that as an opportunity.

"I got to share the love of Jesus with a few people."