6 Bodies in Ashes
of Radicals' Home;
Mayor Vows to Rebuild More Than 50 Houses Destroyed After Police Bombing
WILLIAM K. STEVENS / New York Times 15may85
[More on MOVE]
woman confronting a plainclothes police officer yesterday near a house
destroyed in fire in Philadelphia. - AP
note: While reading this article, it's extremely important to note
the way MOVE is described as a radical, mysterious organization that shuns modern technology, preaches a
revolutionary doctrine, and so on. This is an attempt to demonize a peace-loving
people who are 100% against violence. The sin against the system they
committed was attempting to live a clean, healthy life and self-defense
against an insane system that is hell-bent on the destruction of the right
to privacy and to live peacefully.
PHILADELPHIA. May 14 - Firefighters found the bodies of six people today m the charred rubble of a radical group's house that had been leveled in a police assault that set fire to the surrounding neighborhood and destroyed more than 50 homes
Mayor W. Wilson Goode, saying he was "devastated" by Monday night's destruction, said the city would rebuild the houses gutted by the blaze, which left 200 people homeless.
He defended the action against Move; a radical back-to-nature group, which had had a 90-minute shootout with the police nearly 12 hours before a bomb was dropped from a helicopter. Mr. Goode indicated that he would approve such a bombing again in a similar situation.
Bodies Not Identified
None of the dead found in the rubble of Move's row-house fortress in West Philadelphia could be identified this evening. Officials said there were two men, one woman, a fourth adult whose sex could not b be determined, and two children, one of them a girl.
The fire that destroyed the bodies swept through two blocks of closely packed houses, destroying or extensively damaging 53 houses. Mayor Goode vowed to a group of burned-out residents to "make you whole again." he said the ruined homes would be rebuilt, free, within a year.
The intense heat of the six-alarm blaze, one of the worst residential fires in the city's history, melted cars nearly a block away. It collapsed the roofs and stripped the facades off houses, leaving rows of unsupported walls standing.
Fire Called a Tragic Accident
As Philadelphians today expressed shock at the devastation and looked for explanations of what some called an insane episode, Mayor Goode called it the worst of all possible outcomes for a solid plan that went tragically awry. He and other city officials said the fire was an accident, that the bomb intended to bring an end to a 24-hour standoff was not an incendiary device. He later suggested that the fire might have been set from inside the house.
The police action was part of an attempt to evict fewer than 20 members of Move, a mysterious organization that shuns modern technology, preaches a revolutionary doctrine and [cont. from p.B8] has often been at odds with neighbors and the authorities.
People who lived nearby in the middle-class neighborhood said the group had accumulated in Arsenal, built a rooftop bunker commanding the front of the building, kept dozens of cats, refused to pay utility bills and harangued the neighbors at all hours with obscene tirades over loudspeakers.
The mayor said it was possible that some or most of the radical groups armed members had escaped through the police cordon.
After a similar siege at another house here in 1978, one police officer was killed and nine members of Move were convicted of murder.
Yesterday's action, which was initially prompted by the upset neighbors, was interpreted by some as a serious political setback to Mr. Goode, who was who has been credited with a successful record in trying to develop and promote a research in Philadelphia. But in a television interview tonight, the Mayor said he had received many calls and telegrams indicating support. "People want a strong leader, a decisive leader," he said.
For the moment, however, little attention was focused on that aspect as the city confronted the humanitarian problem of what to do about 200 people rendered homeless. Mayor Goode told some of them today that the city would begin immediately to find them temporary places to live.
The spectacular fire, visible across the city, began about 5:30 PM, after a 24-hour police siege of the Move house. A state police helicopter swooped over the house on Osage Avenue and, according to police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambore, a city police officer dropped 8 "square package," a specifically fabricated explosive device, on the rooftop bunker.
Mayor Was Told in Advance
Both Commissioner Sambor and Mayor Goode said the decision to drop the bomb was the commissioners, although Mr. Goode said he had been notified in advance and had approved the action.
The police Commissioner said Monday night that he had ordered the bombing because, after hours of attempts to destroy the bunker with water cannons, he had concluded a bomb was the only way to knock it out. From that structure, he said, the heavy-caliber weapons of the Move members commanded the street and penned down the police.
Mr. Goode said investigators suspected that the fire might have been set from inside the house, but he acknowledged that there was little evidence for such a suspicion and said he could not fat on a motivation.
There were unconfirmed reports that occupants of the house had stored gasoline on the road.
In view of what happened in the 1978 confrontation with Move, some politicians and residents interviewed today asked why the Mayor waited so long, after months of complaints by neighbors about the group, to take action.
Unpaid Utility Bills
Mayor Goode said last week that despite the harassment of neighborhood residents by Move members, there was no apparent basis for legal action against them. But he said that later research turned up arrest warrants for the members before housing-code violations and unpaid utility bills.
In a news conference today after he visited the Osage Avenue neighborhood, the mayor said, when asked whether another solution might have been possible: "I don't know that we could have done anything differently."
Everything worked, he said, until the bomb was dropped. "The thing we did not anticipate was that there would be a fire, "he said, terming it an accident that no one could have anticipated.
In answer to another question, he conceded that the action in the end "may not have achieved its objective" because some of the Move members may have escaped. One woman and one 9-year-old boy who had been in the house were taken into custody, the police said, the woman was said to be in jail, the boy in a hospital.
Delay in Fighting Fire
Many citizens last night and today persisted in asking too basic questions: why wasn't necessary to take the unusual, some with a bizarre, step of dropping a bomb on a residential neighborhood? And why was it so long before the Fire Department attacked the fire? One building owner in the burned-out neighborhood, Devore Arnold, said last night that the firefighters did not move for an hour and 40 minutes after they arrived.
Fire Chief William Richmond conceded today that "we did not aggressively attack that fire" because of the desire to protect firefighters from gunfire. Thousands of rounds of fire were exchanged during the day Monday. "We are firefighters," Mr. Richman said. "We are not infantrymen."
At a news conference tonight he said firefighters made a "conscious decision "to allow the fire to burn so that the bunker would fall into the second floor or onto the street.
Joan Specter, a Republican who is a member of the city council, call today for an independent investigation into the incident and its handling. The mayor, a Democrat, said he would have an announcement along those lines later.
The purpose of an independent investigation, said Mrs. Specter, would be "not to place blame, but to ask questions." Among them would be: What was done in terms of planning for the Move situation? Didn't please consult with anybody on the use of a bomb? Why did they not attacked a year ago, before the bunker was built?
'Hard to Comprehend'
Mrs. Specter summed up the feeling of many Philadelphians Monday night and today has one of shock. "It so hard to comprehend," she said. "We all watched it on TV for a day and a half , and were all coming down off that in trying to assess what happened."
Monday night, around the corner from the burning houses, Amy and spread his arms, palms downward, and asked his companion: "is this madness?"
Up the street, three men from the neighborhood surveyed the flames in all. "Whole damned block's gonna go up?" One said, long before it actually did. "Watch Wilson get elected now."
Mrs. Specter said that this was not the time to talk about politics, but to focus on the homeless victims. But many others began talking right away of the effect of the incident on Mr. Goode's public esteem and on his ability to govern in the future.
One ally of the Mayor's said today that his administration had "failed catastrophically" in this situation and it can stitch waited an obvious setback for Mr. Goode.
He might retrieve the situation, said the mayor's political ally, if he persuades people he did the best he could under the circumstances or that he was a victim of the unpredictable, or even that he made an honest era of judgment.
"But if a sizable number listened to his explanation and say it doesn't wash, "the ally said, "that would be bad."
Some Philadelphians worried about what the spectacle would do to the image of the city whose reputation as a dynamic, livable metropolis has lately been rising. "People nationally will never understand how it happened," a television commentator said ruefully last night.
"It's an embarrassment to the city of Philadelphia," said another resident.
"It's the biggest thing to hit Philly since the bicentennial," said a policeman with a wan smile.
Through it all, Mayor Goode has accepted responsibility and held himself accountable.
On his tour of the burned-out neighborhood today, he was applauded several times by the residents, many of whom seemed ambivalent about what has happened. On one hand, they wanted to get rid of Move, which they considered the bane of their lives. On the other, they now have no homes.
- Police Drop Bomb on Radicals' Home in Philadelphia - New York Times 14may85
- Nobody was Supposed to Survive - Alice Walker from Living by the Word 1988
- After the Inferno. Tears and Bewilderment - New York Times 15may85
- Nobody was Supposed to Survive - Alice Walker from Living by the Word 1988
- Philadelphia, city officials ordered to Pay $1.5 Million to MOVE Survivor - CNN 24jun96