A day after the Philadelphia health commissioner was forced to resign over the cremation of partial remains belonging to the victims of a 1985 police bombing of the headquarters of a black organization, the city stated that these remains had never been destroyed.
Mayor Jim Kenney released a statement on Friday saying the remains of the victims of the Move bombing allegedly cremated in 2017, under the orders of Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, were found at the medical examiner’s office .
Five children were among 11 people killed when police shelled the headquarters of Move, igniting a fire that spread to more than 60 townhouses.
“I am relieved that these remains have been found and not destroyed. However, I am also very sorry for the unnecessary pain this ordeal has caused to the African family, ”Kenney said, adding that“ many unanswered questions ”surround the case – including why Farley’s order failed. was not obeyed.
Kenney coerced Farley into resigning Thursday, the 36th anniversary of the Move bombing, after consulting with family members of the victims. At the time, the mayor said Farley’s decision to order cremation and disposal of the remains without notifying family members of the deceased lacked empathy.
In a statement released Thursday by the mayor’s office, Farley said he was informed by the city’s medical examiner, Dr Sam Gulino, that a box had been found containing documents related to the autopsies of the victims of Move. The box was found to contain bones and bone fragments.
It is standard procedure to preserve specimens after an autopsy is completed and the remains are given to the deceased’s next of kin, Farley said – but “not wanting to cause further anguish” he ordered their disposal. on his own authority, without consulting other senior city officials.
After recent reports that local institutions had remains of victims of the Move bombing, Farley said he had reconsidered his actions. Kenney said Farley told him about his order on Tuesday night, took responsibility and quit the $ 175,000 a year job he held for five years.
“I deeply regret that I made this decision without consulting the family members of the victims and I apologize for the pain this will cause them,” Farley wrote Thursday.
Gulino has also been placed on leave, pending an investigation. Kenney’s statement did not mention Farley or Gulino, but promised the investigation would proceed with “full transparency.”
An attorney for family members of the victims, Leon A Williams, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that city officials, including Kenney, informed the family on Friday.
Kenney’s statement said family members and their representatives were able to ask questions of the medical examiner’s office and he pledged to hand over the remains once the investigation is complete.
“There are also clearly many areas for improvement in the procedures used by the medical examiner’s office,” he wrote.
An attorney who accompanied the Move members to a meeting with Kenney ahead of Friday’s revelations, Michael Coard, said they were “outraged, enraged, irritated, but above all confused” by what was thought to have been the destruction of remains. He said a prosecution was possible.
Williams did not describe the family’s reaction to Friday’s Inquirer news.
Late Thursday, dressed in white, the members of Move read a minute-by-minute account of the bombing and the confrontation that led to it.
Attempting to serve warrants on four members and evict the rest of the black return-to-nature group, Philadelphia police dropped a bomb from a helicopter, igniting fuel for a generator stored on the roof.
Members recounted the alleged comments from city emergency service officials asking first responders to let the house burn. Fire chiefs said they feared their firefighters would face gunfire if they tried to get to the house in the middle of the block. The fire quickly spread, displacing more than 250 people.
The city appointed a commission to investigate the decisions that led to the bombing, and in 1986 it issued a report calling the decision to bomb an occupied townhouse “inadmissible.” The survivors of Move received a $ 1.5 million judgment in a 1996 civil lawsuit.
City officials said at the time neighbors lodged complaints, saying there were hygiene, vermin and noise issues. But documents gathered by the commission and in research into the bombing showed that city officials, including the mayor, had designated the group as a terrorist organization.
Members of the group claimed they had been targeted since the 1978 deportation attempt in which a police officer was killed and called the explanation for the complaint a lie.
“I hope this latest discovery can give them some comfort,” Kenney said on Friday.