Jun 9, 2022 - News

Philadelphia releases independent review of handling of MOVE bombing victims

MOVE bombing

Aerial view of smoldering rubble where some 60 homes were destroyed by fire after a shootout and bombing by police at the Black liberation group MOVE's house in West Philadelphia . Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

The city of Philadelphia on Thursday released an independent report investigating the MOVE bombing and the subsequent handling of victims' remains.

Flashback: Philadelphia police laid siege to MOVE's Osage Avenue home on May 13, 1985, following a violent confrontation between law enforcement and members of the Black liberation group.

  • Police, with approval from city officials, dropped a bomb on the house and allowed the resulting blaze to burn out of control.
  • The fire killed 11 MOVE members, including five children, and destroyed more than 60 homes in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood.

After the bombing, the city's medical examiner's office gave some of the MOVE members' remains to an anthropologist for identification. The remains stayed in the anthropologist's possession for decades.

  • Last year, it was revealed that former health commissioner Thomas Farley directed the medical examiner's office to destroy human remains associated with the MOVE bombing still in the city's possession. Farley's order was not carried out.

Of note: The 257-page report was completed by law firms Dechert LLP and Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads.

  • The investigation does not interrogate the Police or Fire Departments' conduct, nor does it look into any officials' culpability in the MOVE bombing.
  • The report also cited limitations, noting that the law firms weren't able to interview several key witnesses.

Some conclusions: The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office's files related to the victims were inconsistent and incomplete from the beginning. Cranes to dig up debris and bodies damaged remains, which complicated locating where bodies were recovered.

  • Five child victims were buried at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale in unmarked graves.
  • Eleven sets of packages of human remains are in the possession of the medical examiner's office, "some" of which appear to be associated with bombing victims.
  • MEO had stored toxicology samples from MOVE victims in a freezer from 1985 to 2009, before destroying them without informing families.

Some notable recommendations: The MEO should amend death certificates of all 11 MOVE victims to reflect that their deaths were homicides, not accidents.

  • The office should develop more stringent policies for documenting death investigations, and regularly audit all storage rooms.

What they're saying: The city medical examiner's office's response to the killing of MOVE members "fell far short" of its goals, the city's health department admitted in a released statement.

  • Health commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said in a released statement that some of the report's recommendations are "already in process," while others will be hindered by "funding and logistical constraints."

Read the full report.


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