PINELLAS PARK, Fla., March 31 -- Terri Schiavo slipped away Thursday, dying with a stuffed animal tucked under her arm as a national debate raged about the ethics, politics and spiritual significance of her life and death.
She was pronounced dead at 9:05 a.m. on a breezy central Florida morning, a bouquet of lilies and roses -- a gift from an anonymous supporter -- scenting the room and demonstrators on the sidewalk praying for her soul. Schiavo's husband, Michael, cradled her in those last minutes -- 13 days after her feeding tube was removed, his attorney George Felos said.
Suzanne Vitadamo called for calm after her sister's death. "Threatening words dishonor our family, our faith and our sister, Terri," she said.
(Carlos Barria -- Reuters)
_____Terri Schiavo Dies_____
Photo Gallery: A photographic look at the Schiavo case.
Video: Brother Paul O'Donnell announces Schiavo's death.
Guardian's Report: Report by Dr. Jay Wolfson, guardian ad litem for Theresa Marie Schiavo, for Gov. Jeb Bush and the Fla. 6th Circuit Court.
Terri Schiavo's Unstudied Life (The Washington Post, Mar 25, 2005)
MSNBC Video: George Felos, attorney for Michael Schiavo, addresses the media after Terri Schivo's death.
MSNBC Video: Terri Schiavo's sister Suzanne and brother Bobby Schindler's comments to the media.
Her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, whose emotional appeals for political intervention carved unforgettable images of the case, were not at the hospice. Schiavo's sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, and her brother, Bobby Schindler, were banned from the room by Michael Schiavo after a loud confrontation between Schindler and police in the hallway about 15 minutes before her death.
Once the room was cleared, Felos called Schiavo's passing a "calm, peaceful and gentle death." Her parents' spiritual adviser, the Rev. Frank Pavone, his eyes moist and red, called it "a killing."
"Millions of Americans were saddened by Schiavo's death," President Bush said. He lamented that Schiavo could not have been kept alive by a law he signed after it was passed by Congress during a historic Palm Sunday session. "The essence of civilization," Bush said, "is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak."
Some of America's most powerful figures and institutions -- the president, his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Congress and the Roman Catholic Church -- tried to stop her death. But, in the end, it was an array of federal and state judges, spanning the ideological spectrum, who declared that what happened here Thursday morning is what Terri Schiavo, 41, would have wanted.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who led the effort for Congress to intervene, called Schiavo's death "a moral poverty and a legal tragedy."
"This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change," DeLay said in a statement. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) described DeLay's remarks as "reprehensible" and questioned whether he was advocating violence against judges who ruled against Schiavo's parents. "At a time when emotions are running high, Mr. DeLay needs to make clear that he is not advocating violence against anyone. People in this case have already had their lives threatened."
DeLay spokesman Dan Allen said the House leader was not advocating violence but was "stating disappointment at the way the judiciary ignored the intent of Congress and the president."
The political drama swirling over Schiavo -- who died three days before her husband's birthday -- was matched by the religious passions her case stirred. The Vatican took a particular interest, issuing statements that narrowed the range of acceptable conditions under which a Catholic can stop tube-feeding. After Schiavo's death Thursday, Jose Saraiva Martins -- head of the Vatican's office for sainthood -- called the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube "an attack on God."
Effect on the Crowd
Within moments of Schiavo's passing, the plaintive notes of "Amazing Grace" filled the air, twisting out of a scuffed trumpet as an impromptu choir formed outside her hospice. A man slumped against a metal post, shaking his head and murmuring a prayer. A woman in a purple nurse's smock sobbed, unable to speak.
Demonstrators hefted posters into the air of the Virgen de Guadelupe, the Virgin Mary image most beloved by so many of Florida's Hispanics. Others kneeled and bent their foreheads to the ground.
"I ask God to have mercy on the soul of our nation," said Joe Rogers, 61, a defense contractor from Ohio.