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Health Official Resigns Over Mishandling Of MOVE Bombing Remains


Thirty-six years ago this week, Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on a row house in West Philadelphia. Inside that building was the headquarters of a Black liberation group called MOVE. Eleven members of the group were killed in the bombing, including five children. Yesterday, the city's mayor revealed what happened to the remains of some of the victims. Ximena Conde of WHYY has the story.

XIMENA CONDE, BYLINE: For years, the members of MOVE clashed with local police and drew nuisance complaints from neighbors. Mike Africa Jr., one of the remaining members of the group, says there was no justification for what the city did.

MIKE AFRICA JR: I'm just trying to get people to understand that my family were humans.

CONDE: After the bombing, the city ordered an investigation, which identified the remains of some who were killed. On Wednesday, Africa learned the city's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, ordered bombing victims' remains cremated and disposed of in 2017, and that he did so without telling the surviving family.

M AFRICA: It was grueling, gut-wrenching, traumatizing, angering, sad. It was a lot of things.

CONDE: Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney says he ordered Farley to resign.


JIM KENNEY: This action lacked empathy for the victims, their family and the deep pain that the MOVE bombing has brought to our city for nearly four decades.

CONDE: At a remembrance for the MOVE bombing victims yesterday, Mike Africa Jr. shared his disbelief over Farley's actions.


M AFRICA: Instead of turning them over to their families, to us, they made the decision to incinerate them.

CONDE: Just weeks ago, surviving members of MOVE learned anthropologists had kept human remains found in the ashes following the bombing. Those remains were held at the Penn Museum and Princeton University without the knowledge of MOVE. MOVE member Pam Africa says the surviving family plans to continue meeting with the city as it investigates the mishandling of remains.

PAM AFRICA: You know, we told them we'll get back with them, you know, because we have to discuss stuff with the rest of the family.

CONDE: For now, Mayor Jim Kenney has said a team will investigate the handling and mishandling of all the MOVE bombing remains. The Africa family will approve who is involved in the investigation while they figure out next steps.

For NPR News, I'm Ximena Conde in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ximena Conde