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Hannity

Exclusive: The Schindler Family Speaks Out in Their First Interview Since Terri Schiavo's Death

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," May 6, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Hannity & Colmes" weeknights at 9 p.m. ET!

SEAN HANNITY: Just moments ago, I sat down with Terri Schiavo's family. It was their first television interview since Terri Schiavo's controversial death back in March.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Thank you all for being with us. It's good to see you again. I spent a lot of time with you guys down in Tampa. How are you doing? How are you holding up?

ROBERT SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO'S FATHER: We're fine. I mentioned earlier that we have been just inundated with, you know, compassion. And people have been just magnificent.

HANNITY: I think, as I was down there, I think everybody was worried more about you, Mary, than anyone else. And how are you doing?

MARY SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO'S MOTHER: I'm OK. I'm doing fine. I'm just trying to answer, you know, personal letters and letters that, you know, have been coming in. We got 10,000-12,000 sympathy cards that, you know, we got. And it's just been an outpouring of just wonderful, wonderful people.

HANNITY: Let me go back to you guys. And this is your sister. I want to go back to the day she died. Michael's attorney, Mr. Felos, said she never looked so beautiful, never looked so calm. It was a calm, peaceful and gentle death.

You were there up to almost the moment that your sister died. Is that how you'd describe it?

BOBBY SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO'S BROTHER: Absolutely not. It was the most barbaric — I use the word barbaric over and over. It was grotesque. I've seen my sister having to go through what she was going through. It was simply — I'm at a loss for words.

It was something that I can't believe we are allowing to happen to human beings, that we are actually starving and dehydrating to death. I mean, I can describe the way my sister looked, but it was just — it was horrible.

HANNITY: Yes.

SUZANNE VITADAMO, TERRI SCHIAVO'S SISTER: It was very difficult to watch, you know. It was grotesque. And you know, she was struggling to — it was just the whole — I can remember it like it was yesterday, just the visual of, you know, her body, the way she looked, you know, how her eyes were sunken in. She looked like a skeleton. She was struggling to breathe. I mean, that's not a very peaceful...

HANNITY: How heavy did she breathe, because you were there? This is your daughter.

R. SCHINDLER: It was so gut-wrenching, seeing her deteriorate. And people were misled at the fact that it was a peaceful way for her to die. Her face, the difference, the contrast from when that had started, the starvation. Her cheekbones, at the end, that's all we could see was her cheekbones. And her eyes were sunken within her head. And it looked like her teeth...

HANNITY: Why would somebody then describe it calm, peaceful, somebody never looked so beautiful in their life?

(CROSSTALK)

R. SCHINDLER: That was incredible.

VITADAMO: To justify what they were doing.

B. SCHINDLER: I think it — to tell you — they're mischaracterizing the way she died, just as they mischaracterizing Terri's condition prior to the starvation. They have to do this. This is a big lie. Because if they described what was really happening, I think, you know, the nation would be outraged with allowing this to take place.

HANNITY: If it's so peaceful, why no photos?

B. SCHINDLER: Exactly.

HANNITY: Why no video? When's the last time we saw an updated video of Terri?

B. SCHINDLER: And the same for her condition. They would not allow videos in to see Terri's condition, either. And it's for the same reason, because they continue to mischaracterize her condition. They needed to mischaracterize the way she died.

HANNITY: You guys had this last battle with Michael just moments before Terri died. You were there up until what, about 10 minutes before she passed away?

VITADAMO: Right.

HANNITY: And what happened?

VITADAMO: Well, you know, the nurse had come in and told us that we needed to leave for a few moments to do it, and they were going to do an assessment of Terri. So we were told that we could go back in the room in about 10 minutes.

And when we left the room, we said to the police, you know, we'll just wait out here. And he said, "No, I'm here to escort you off the property, per Mr. Schiavo."

We realized exactly what was happening. We knew that they were going to take us off the property and they were not going to allow us back in that room. So obviously, we were upset.

B. SCHINDLER: Well, you know, CBS News came out with the obituary of Terri two days before she died. And in this, if you had read it, you would have seen that this thing was all staged. That they wanted Michael to be there, holding Terri in her arms when she died. And that's exactly what they had to do.

So we were refused to be there with Terri when we knew she was close to her death. We were told we can not be in the room with her.

HANNITY: You had a battle with some police.

B. SCHINDLER: Well, after they told us we weren't allowed in the room, my sister...

HANNITY: You wanted to be with her.

B. SCHINDLER: We wanted to be with her.

VITADAMO: And we said, you know, we'll be in the room. Michael can be in the room.

B. SCHINDLER: We didn't care.

VITADAMO: We'll be in the room with him. We don't care. We just wanted to be with her.

R. SCHINDLER: So even after the fact, I went in there and there were two policemen in the room. And they would not allow us near Terri after she was dead.

HANNITY: Why?

R. SCHINDLER: And Mary was there with her. And they didn't give us a moment of privacy. And I pleaded with the policeman, "Please leave the room..."

HANNITY: Yes.

R. SCHINDLER: "... and give us, the family, a moment of privacy with Terri." And they wouldn't allow Terri's uncle in the room. And the policeman — he was going to arrest me, I believe, because I was insisting that we have some privacy with Terri.

(CROSSTALK)

HANNITY: That was — that was also the last time you saw her.

R. SCHINDLER: Yes. Throughout the entire two weeks...

HANNITY: What were they afraid, you were going to put an ice chip on her at that point, or...

R. SCHINDLER: Who only knows?

B. SCHINDLER: I think — I think they were told to be in the room. I think they were scared that we were going to take videos or pictures of Terri, which was absolutely — it's absolutely obscene that our family would even consider doing something like that. But I think that's why the police were ordered to be in the room.

R. SCHINDLER: Through that whole period, we were never permitted to be with Terri by herself. There was always policemen...

HANNITY: And you had told me that you couldn't even go in there. They were right over you and...

R. SCHINDLER: They were hovering over us.

HANNITY: You're the mom. This is your daughter. Couldn't give her an ice chip when she was dying, and then you couldn't give her, basically, a hug without having a police officer. How hard is that?

M. SCHINDLER: I had to whisper in her ear. I wanted to tell her anything that I wanted — just stuff that I wanted to tell her. I couldn't do it. You know, they were standing there. So I would bend down and whisper in her ear.

VITADAMO: Even when you did that, though, they would even crouch in closer, because they wanted to know what you were doing that close to her, you know?

The last few minutes we had with Terri we had Father Pavone in the room with us. And he had a stop watch in his hand. And it was this watch that he wore. And the police came in and they wanted to know what he had in his hand. And he showed them. And they made him give it up. And he couldn't hold it. It was an ordeal.

HANNITY: Mr. Schindler, you wanted to add one more...

R. SCHINDLER: I just want to add one more point and to be more graphic about the peaceful way Terri died. I looked in her mouth — because at the very end, she was struggling to breathe — and the inside of her mouth looked like — all I could think of was like a piece of meat in a meat market. And it was like meat that had been out for awhile.

Inside of her mouth were, like, reddish-maroon because her mouth was all dried. Her lips and everything was cracking from the lack of hydration.

And that's things that has never been reported. And it's just — this can't happen again, Sean. It cannot happen again. And if anyone who would have witnessed that in the public, they would be so appalled by it they would never let it happen again.

HANNITY: If the public had seen the pictures of the images of this...

R. SCHINDLER: If they would have been permitted to see what she actually went through, it was just ghoulish.

HANNITY: Let me ask you. This didn't end this night, because then there's a battle over cremation. There's a battle over religious rites. There's a battle over her funeral. What happened?

B. SCHINDLER: Well, we still don't know where Terri's ashes were laid. They were court-ordered. They were supposed to tell us, and we still have not heard from Michael Schiavo where Terri's been laid. You know, it wasn't — our family expected this. Michael has disobeyed court orders throughout this whole ordeal and continues to do so today.

HANNITY: You know, with all the battles are gone, do you feel like you had an opportunity to say good-bye to your sister, to your daughter?

R. SCHINDLER: Not really. The circumstances, it was — you know, how do you say good-bye? I was encouraging her because I — all of us daily were holding out hope that, you know, something would change, with the legislature, with — that Governor Bush would step in and exercise his executive powers.

And I kept encouraging Terri to, "Please, Terri, hang on."

B. SCHINDLER: We were fortunate enough, Suzie and I, and Father Pavone, as you said earlier, prior to Terri dying, we were fortunate enough to be in the room with her. And we were praying with her. And father was singing to her. And it was very — a peaceful moment we had with her, and that's what I try to think about.

But you know something? It was so bad that, even while we were in the room with her praying and singing, I couldn't look at her. My face was buried. I was holding her, but my face was buried in her bed, because I could not take looking at my sister in that condition.

VITADAMO: And don't forget, that was 10 minutes before she died. So I've never seen — I mean, it was — I've never looked at death like that. I've never seen it. I've never been so close to death before.

HANNITY: All right. We've gone over some of this. And I want to go over it again here. So many unanswered questions in this case. When you read most reports that say Terri was bulimic, heart failure, heart attack and that's why she collapsed, that's not true?

B. SCHINDLER: The heart attack has been disproven. The bulimia — there is absolutely no medical facts supporting that Terri ever had an eating disorder. And I'm still seeing reports today that are reporting that Terri had an eating disorder. And it is the farthest thing from the truth.

HANNITY: She had lost weight five years earlier?

B. SCHINDLER: She had lost weight five — in fact, what is so upsetting is there is more evidence — there's no evidence that supports Terri had an eating disorder. But there's a tremendous amount of evidence supporting that something violent happened to Terri the night she collapsed. But yet, in the media, all you're hearing reported is that Terri had an eating disorder that caused her collapse.

HANNITY: The night that she was discovered, the paramedic decided to call police, quote, "because of Terri's age and because the situation seemed unusual." Was that ever investigated?

B. SCHINDLER: The night Terri collapsed was never investigated, no.

HANNITY: What do you think happened?

R. SCHINDLER: Well, I think there was violence involved. I think that Terri was a victim of abuse. And I think there should have been a full-scale investigation. Why it wasn't done, I'll never know. But it should have been done.

HANNITY: You found out, what, ten years after the fact that 53 weeks after she had collapsed, that she had a number of broken bones, that she had had, what, a broken femur, broken vertebrae, broken back, broken knees, broken ankles?

MARY SCHINDLER: Broken ribs.

HANNITY: Broken ribs? And it said, "compression factor presumably traumatic, the patient has a history of trauma." She never had a history of trauma?

R. SCHINDLER: No.

MARY SCHINDLER: No.

B. SCHINDLER: Not prior to her collapse. See, part of the problem we had, our family had, is because it happened so — because we found all this evidence so long after Terri collapsed, we weren't able to get a proper investigation.

HANNITY: But this is only one year after she collapsed?

B. SCHINDLER: But we, our family, did not come to find that bone scan until 2002.

HANNITY: But Michael was quoted — and he had already filed a lawsuit based on the collapse issue and the treatment. He said in The Tampa Bay Tribune that he thought, oh, that probably happened during rehab, or he suspected. Why didn't he sue over that? Do we know? Anyone ever ask?

R. SCHINDLER: No, he never communicated to us at the time about this bone scan.

MARY SCHINDLER: I was at rehab with her every day (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

SUZANNE VITADAMO: Early on.

MARY SCHINDLER: Early on, and nothing ever happened.

R. SCHINDLER: And how they discovered the problem was that when she was doing the rehab — and this is now within the first year after she had the collapse. And she was getting rehab then. And she was complaining. And she was in pain. And they didn't know what was causing the pain.

HANNITY: From the beginning, way before the 53 weeks, she was in that pain?

R. SCHINDLER: Yes.

VITADAMO: Yes.

HANNITY: Way before the 53 weeks?

MARY SCHINDLER: Yes. And the doctor said that, you know, we should get a scan of her because something's going on here.

B. SCHINDLER: But we found this out — as I said, we found this out just a couple years ago, the bone scans.

HANNITY: Going back, again, this bone scan. Broken back, broken vertebrae, broken femur, broken knees, ankles and what else?

MARY SCHINDLER: Ribs.

HANNITY: Ribs. Do all of you think that Michael played a part in this?

B. SCHINDLER: Well, something caused her to collapse that night. And to this day, we still don't know what caused it.

Now, as I said, the last couple years — you know, one of the things our family has to live with the rest of our lives is that we weren't able to connect the dots back when Terri collapsed. But you know, we're connecting the dots now. And it sure appears as though something violent, as we said earlier, happened to Terri the night she collapsed.

HANNITY: But his only comment on this was in "The Tampa Tribune," that it could happen in rehab. And you're saying the pain that she was having was before this bone scan ever took place, or this time frame, is that what you're saying?

VITADAMO: That's what led up to the bone scan.

B. SCHINDLER: That's what's in her medical charts.

HANNITY: That's why they had the bone scan?

VITADAMO: That's why they had the bone scan.

B. SCHINDLER: Right.

R. SCHINDLER: But we were not advised of it by...

(CROSSTALK)

HANNITY: Because you didn't find out until ten years later?

R. SCHINDLER: No.

VITADAMO: Right.

MARY SCHINDLER: Right.

HANNITY: She never had an MRI, PET scan. No therapy since when?

B. SCHINDLER: '92. '91 or '92. So it was...

VITADAMO: No therapy.

MARY SCHINDLER: Nothing.

B. SCHINDLER: There was no medical documentation of any therapy (INAUDIBLE) or rehabilitation since '91 or '92.

HANNITY: A lot of people don't know there's only one finding of the fact, even though they keep saying there's 19 judges ruling on the case. Only one finding of the fact?

VITADAMO: That's right.

R. SCHINDLER: Yes.

HANNITY: I interviewed all of these nurses that filed affidavits that your daughter was not in a persistent vegetative state. You tell America here tonight she tried to communicate with you and did?

(CROSSTALK)

VITADAMO: Absolutely.

MARY SCHINDLER: All the time. How could 50 doctors that we had that said she's not PVS, and they take the word of two doctors that Michael had? That's pretty amazing.

R. SCHINDLER: That were paid...

B. SCHINDLER: Well, it was three doctors, but...

(CROSSTALK)

MARY SCHINDLER: Three doctors, OK.

B. SCHINDLER: ... but we still far outnumbered.

(CROSSTALK)

MARY SCHINDLER: And we had 50 doctors.

HANNITY: And Michael didn't say until seven years later that Terri's wishes would be to not be on — seven years later?

B. SCHINDLER: Her wishes did not surface until after he already announced that he intended to marry his fiancee, this woman that he's been with for ten years now.

R. SCHINDLER: Jody Centonze, yes.

HANNITY: Michael used to check the mileage of Terri?

MARY SCHINDLER: Yes.

HANNITY: Why? You knew about this?

MARY SCHINDLER: Yes.

HANNITY: Did Terri ever talk about divorce between the two of them?

MARY SCHINDLER: To Bobby.

VITADAMO: She did, to Bobby.

B. SCHINDLER: And her best friend, who was a co-worker where she worked...

VITADAMO: Jackie (ph).

HANNITY: Did you ever know Michael to be violent in any way?

MARY SCHINDLER: Yes.

R. SCHINDLER: Yes.

HANNITY: You did? In what way?

MARY SCHINDLER: Michael had a bad temper.

HANNITY: And you saw it often?

B. SCHINDLER: Well, not often. We saw it...

(CROSSTALK)

VITADAMO: It surfaced every now and then, yes.

MARY SCHINDLER: But the psychiatrist told us down at Mediplex that if he got violent, to call the police.

R. SCHINDLER: Well, he went after Suzanne. And I stepped in between the two of them...

MARY SCHINDLER: That was after Terri's collapse.

HANNITY: And the day that she collapsed, she had had an expensive haircut and coloring?

MARY SCHINDLER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

HANNITY: And she called a friend and said that she had had an argument?

(CROSSTALK)

VITADAMO: She had an argument that day with Michael, yes.

MARY SCHINDLER: And they'd argued, yes.

HANNITY: So the bottom line is, you do believe Michael may have had a role and that the police didn't investigate it. Why?

R. SCHINDLER: That's the question. You know, why?

B. SCHINDLER: We were told by the local state attorney that, even if Michael attempted to do this to Terri that night, there was a four-year statute on attempted murder. And since there was so much time elapsed, they couldn't do anything anyway.

HANNITY: What do you think about this being politicized? Howard Dean of the Democrats said this is going to be an issue in 2006, 2008. We're going to have an ad with a picture of Tom DeLay saying, "Do you want this guy to decide whether you die or not?" And you know, the Republicans have been under attack for supporting your cause and the family.

R. SCHINDLER: No, I commend them for what they did. I think that they have integrity, moral integrity.

HANNITY: Are you angry at Governor Bush?

R. SCHINDLER: I'm disappointed at Governor Bush.

HANNITY: Who else are you angry at, the legal system?

R. SCHINDLER: My goodness, the system is just atrocious.

HANNITY: Judge Greer just got an award.

R. SCHINDLER: That's ludicrous. And I think we're committed as a family that this should never happen again. And there are enough people that are supporting us in what, you know, our plans are. And it should never happen again.

HANNITY: Did you hear about this fireman who recovered, spoke after ten years in...

(CROSSTALK)

VITADAMO: Yes, we did.

R. SCHINDLER: Yes.

MARY SCHINDLER: Yes, we did.

VITADAMO: We immediately thought of Terri.

(CROSSTALK)

MARY SCHINDLER: What if she had had a chance?

VITADAMO: What if they gave up on him?

R. SCHINDLER: There's an incident...

B. SCHINDLER: As my father just said, our foundation, the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation, we are going to continue to speak out and to fight this death group. We have to.

HANNITY: One other thing. In about a month from now, Mark Fuhrman — and I had talked to him about this case and it resulted in him going down and doing a book — Mark Fuhrman's doing a book on this. Do you know what he's going to say in it?

B. SCHINDLER: He had spoken to us. He's asked us several questions. And it goes back to the night Terri collapsed.

VITADAMO: He investigated what happened that night, try to answer that question.

HANNITY: I'm very sorry, though, you guys have been through this. I'm glad you guys came back. And thank you for your time tonight.

VITADAMO: Thank you.

MARY SCHINDLER: Thank you.

R. SCHINDLER: Well, we thank you. And I just — if I can add one more thing, is that people, anybody out there that's listening and watching, they should never, ever let this happen to anyone else.

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