Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley resigned on Thursday after he apologized for having gotten rid of the remains of some people who were killed in the MOVE bombing in 1978 without trying to identify them or notifying family members.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney asked for Farley’s resignation after he found out what Farley had done with the remains in 2017, WCAU reported.
“Instead of fully identifying those remains and returning them to the family, he made a decision to cremate and dispose of them,” Kenney said in a statement.
MOVE is an anti-establishment, radical environmental group that follows the philosophies of black nationalism and anarcho-primitivism, and advocates a return to a hunter-gatherer society. Their members live communally and avoid the use of modern medicine and technology, according to the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.
The members of MOVE have clashed with authorities on multiple occasions.
In 1978, MOVE members who lived together on North 33rd Street in what Time described as “a red brick Victorian house surrounded by trash, garbage and human excrement” where “children and dogs play in the yard, while adults lean over a 6-ft.-high wooden barricade and shout obscenities at passersby” engaged in a standoff with authorities for 15 months.
On Aug. 8, 1978, police tried to execute a court order that required the organization to vacate their residence.
MOVE members resisted, and police were trying to get the radical cult members to drop their weapons and come out of the basement when gunshots were fired at officers from the basement of the MOVE house, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
A shootout ensued that left Philadelphia Police Officer James Ramp dead, and 16 other officers and firefighters wounded, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Four years later, MOVE relocated to Osage Avenue and began the same sort of behavior that had infuriated neighbors on North 33rd Street, Vox reported.
By 1985, the first black mayor of Philadelphia, Wilson Goode, gave the order to evict MOVE from the property, but the group continued to resist.
So at 5:27 p.m. on May 13, 1985, after the nearby homes had been evacuated, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a satchel bomb laced with Tovex and C-4 explosives on the residence, Vox reported.
Sixty-one homes were destroyed in the blast and ensuing fire that raged unabated for hours.
When it was all over, 11 people who lived in the target home – six adults and five children – were dead and more than 250 primarily-black residents were left homeless, according to Vox.
Only two people survived the blast and one of them, Ramona Africa, was convicted of riot and conspiracy and served seven years in prison, The Guardian reported.
City officials said that some bones and bone fragments of those who had died were stored at the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office since the bombing.
Included in those remains were believed to be the bones of two of the children were killed that day, 14-year-old Tree Africa and 12-year-old Delisha Africa, according to The Guardian.
The parents had thought their children’s remains had been buried, and had no idea they had been used by professors for a “case study” that was posted in April.
It was revealed that some of the remains had also been given to the Penn Museum for identification and study, The Guardian reported.
Sometime in 2017, the Philadelphia health commissioner became aware the remains were still being stored and ordered them to be cremated and discarded without making any attempt to identify them using modern technology or notifying families, WCAU reported.
Farley released a statement on May 14 that apologized and said he had followed standard procedure for dealing with specimens from autopsies after the investigation was finished.
“In early 2017, I was informed by Medical Examiner Sam Gulino, M.D. that, among unclaimed personal effects of the deceased, a box was located containing materials related to autopsies of victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing. In the box were bones and bone fragments, presumably from one or more of the victims,” Farley wrote.
He said he told Gulino to dispose of the remains without fanfare to avoid causing “more anguish for the families of the victims,” WCAU reported.
“I made this decision on my own, without notifying or consulting anyone in the Managing Director’s office or the Mayor’s office, and I take full responsibility for it,” the statement read. “I believe my decision was wrong and represented a terrible error in judgment.”
The mayor called Farley’s decision “appalling” and said he had only learned about it on Tuesday, WCAU reported.
“If I had known three years ago, it would have been handled differently,” Kenney told reporters when Farley resigned two days later.
Kenney also put the chief medical examiner on administrative leave pending an investigation, WCAU reported.
He promised the investigative team would include people approved by the families of those whose remains had been discarded.
“Today marks 36 years since eleven Black Philadelphians — including children — were killed by their own government,” the mayor’s statement read. “We cannot rewrite history, but we pledge to use this recent revelation as an opportunity to pay dignity and respect to the victims, their families, and all Philadelphians who have suffered because of the MOVE bombing. We are actively engaging local stakeholders on appropriate and meaningful ways to commemorate MOVE, and we will share more on our plans in the coming weeks.”