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May 15, 2021

City finds remains of MOVE bombing victims after they were thought to have been destroyed

This news comes just one day after the city's Health Commissioner resigned for calling for the destruction and disposal of the remains

Investigations MOVE
MOVE bombing remains found Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Remains of the victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing were found Friday after they were previously thought to have been destroyed and discarded without the family's consent or knowledge.

City officials said they found the remains of the 1985 MOVE bombing victims that were previously thought to have been cremated and discarded one day after the resignation of former Health Commissioner Thomas Farley for the mishandling of the remains.

This news comes thirty-six years after Philadelphia officials dropped C4 explosives on an occupied row home in West Philadelphia during a police assault on the Black liberation group, MOVE, that destroyed dozens of homes and killed 11 people.

The city announced Thursday that the remains were cremated and disposed of in 2017, per Farley's orders, without consulting the family. However, city officials announced Friday they discovered two boxes labeled "MOVE" that contained the bone fragments of the victims in the Medical Examiner's Office, Mayor Jim Kenney said.

"After comparing the contents of the box to an inventory of bone specimens and fragments from 2017, they appear to be the remains thought to have been cremated four years ago," Kenney said in a statement.

Mike Africa Jr., a member of MOVE and relative of the bombing victims, told CNN that they are unsure how many people's remains were in the newly discovered boxes.

"They found out that the remains had not been incinerated, that they still have them and that, that was pretty much it," Africa said. "They said that they were supposed to be (incinerated) but someone didn't follow the orders."

The incident is still under investigation, Kenney said, and the details of the incident are unknown. The city's Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Sam Gulino, is currently on administrative leave pending a full investigation.

“I am relieved that these remains were found and not destroyed, however I am also very sorry for the needless pain that this ordeal has caused the Africa family," Kenney said. "There are many unanswered questions including why the remains were not cremated as Dr. Farley directed. There are also clearly many areas for improvement in procedures used by the Medical Examiner’s Office."

Farley said in a statement that he had instructed the city's Medical Examiner to dispose of the bones and bone fragments in 2017 without consulting the family of the victims. 

He announced his resignation following the news, less than one month after reports that University of Pennsylvania and Princeton housed the remains without the family's knowledge, WHYY reported.

“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,” Kenney said.

Kenney said once the investigation is complete, the city will return the remains to the family.

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