Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told police in Pinellas Park, the small town where Schiavo lies at Hospice Woodside, that they were on the way to take her to a hospital to resume her feeding Thursday.
For a brief period, local police, who have officers around the hospice to keep protesters out, prepared for what sources called a showdown.
In the end, the state agents and the Department of Children and Families backed down, apparently concerned about confronting local police outside the hospice.
"We told them that unless they had the judge with them when they came, they were not going to get in," said a source with the local police.
"The FDLE called to say they were en route to the scene," said an official with the city police who requested anonymity. "When the Sheriff's Department, and our department, told them they could not enforce their order, they backed off."
The incident, known only to a few, underscores the intense emotion and murky legal terrain that the Schiavo case has created.
It also shows that agencies answering directly to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had planned to use a wrinkle in state law that would have allowed them to legally get around the judge's order. The exception in the law allows public agencies to freeze a judge's order whenever an agency appeals it.
Participants in the high-stakes test of wills, who spoke with The Herald on the condition of anonymity, said they believed the standoff could ultimately have led to a constitutional crisis -- and a confrontation between dueling lawmen.
"There were two sets of law enforcement officers facing off, waiting for the other to blink," said one official with knowledge of Thursday morning's activities. In jest, one official said local police discussed "whether we had enough officers to hold off the National Guard."
"It was kind of a showdown on the part of the locals and the state police," the official said. "It was not too long after that Jeb Bush was on TV saying that, evidently, he doesn't have as much authority as people think."
State officials Friday vigorously denied the notion that any "showdown" occurred.
The Department of Children and Families "directed no such action," agency spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez said.
Said Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre: "There was no showdown. We were ready to go. We didn't want to break the law. There was a process in place and we were following the process. The judge had an order and we were following the order."
The developments that set Thursday morning's events in motion began the previous afternoon, when the governor and DCF chief Lucy Hadi held an impromptu news conference to announce that they were considering sheltering Schiavo under the state's adult protection law. The department has been besieged, officials say, by thousands of calls alleging Schiavo is the victim of abuse or neglect.