After the Inferno,
Tears and Bewilderment
ROBERT HANLEY / New York Times 15may85
[More on MOVE]
The fire-ravaged Philadelphia neighborhood where police bombed house of radical group members. UPI photo.
PHILADELPHIA, May 14 — Two women and three children were sitting on a cot, clinging to one another in the Red Cross emergency shelter. Their cries of anguish filled the room. The once-tidy row houses on Osage Avenue, where the family had lived; were nothing but rubble and wisps of smoke.
Milton Williams, one of at least 150 people in 45 families who were suddenly left homeless by the destruction, tried to comfort and encourage the weeping women and children. "The whole world sees us," said Mr. Williams. "We've got to stick together. We'll have homes again. The city and the state did this and they have to replace our homes."
The neighbors he was trying to comfort were members of Thomas Mapp's family. They had lived at No. 6241 Osage, two doors from Mr. Williams.
"I was in the house 22 years and all I got left is the clothes I got on," Mr. Mapp said. "1 haven't seen the house yet. I'm afraid to look."
Event Hard to Think About
At a police barricade a block away from the devastated neighborhood, a woman who had returned from Osage Avenue told a friend: "You can't even conceptualize it. It's just walls, brick walls. No fronts, no backs."
"It sends a shiver of my back," her friend said. "I can't even think about it."
Mayor W. Wilson Goode has promised residents that the city will rebuild their homes within a year.
The Mapp's Family's last day at home, on Sunday, had been a happy one, Mr. Mapp recalled. A family reunion and a Mother's Day celebration was just ending when the police called about 8:30 PM and told the family to leave their home for 24 hours.
The same order went to the homes all up-and-down Osage Avenue between 62d Street and Cobbs Creek Parkway and to the homes on the same block of Addison Street to the south and Pine Street to the north.
Four years of friction and tension between homeowners in the working-class neighborhood and a dozen or so hostile and angry people living at No. 6221 Osage were moving to a final and violent confrontation. The homeowners went Sunday night to the homes of friends and relatives or to the hastily arranged Red Cross shelter at St. Carthage Roman Catholic Church three blocks from the neighborhood.
Few could have imagined then that their, homes, their whole neighborhood, would he in smoldering ruins on their return.
The confrontation began with the crackle of gunfire about 6 A.M. Monday.
By nightfall, almost all of Osage between 62nd Street and Cobbs Creek Parkway and half the homes on Pine Street were engulfed in an inferno. It started when Pennsylvania State Police dropped and explosive device from a helicopter onto what everyone in the neighborhood called the bunker on the roof of No. 6221 Osage.
People said that the "bunker" measured roughly 10 feet in each direction. Some said it was fortified with steel and had rectangle or openings built into it for weapons. Others said gasoline was stored there to fuel a rooftop generator.
The police said they could not verify the comments about the stored gasoline.
'They Dropped the Bomb'
Police officer dropping improvised explosive device from helicopter. - AP photo.
"I was in the kitchen cooking when they dropped the bomb — BOOM!" said Margaret Copeland, who lives on Larchwood Avenue, south of Addison. "There was black smoke when I got to the front door and then white smoke and then there were the flames. The flames just kept running up and up."
Kenneth Brooks was on a rooftop on nearby Cedar Street when the explosive device went off. "As soon as it hit, the bunker exploded in the fire went every place."
For reasons none of the people question today could explain, the people at No. 6221 called their group Move. Residents said Move espoused back-to-earth naturalism and hated the police. That animosity grew after a 1978 shootout with the Philadelphia police, in another neighborhood, that left one officer dead and, eventually, nine Move members imprisoned after they were convicted of murder.
Move came to the Osage Avenue neighborhood in poverty in 1981, residents said. At first people gave the members food and clothing. But disliked and then hatred built. Three neighborhood men were beaten by Move members in the last 18 months, residents said. And every day three loudspeakers of top No. 6221 Osage bloomed profanities and threats into the neighborhood from noon until well after midnight.
"They open the called for confrontation with police or the bullhorn," said Howard Nichols, a spokesman for a neighborhood block association, the united residents of the 6200 Block of Osage Avenue. They were completely destroyed our property values."
Motives Are Unclear
"They were always cussing people out — all times of day and night — because we wouldn't agree with what they wanted," said Nathaniel Poole, 68 years old, of 428 South 62nd Street. "To tell you the truth, I don't know what they wanted."
The block association complained, to no avail, to the police and to City Hall. Frustrated, the group wrote Gov. Dick Thornburgh in March and April, asking for state help.
"We love our block and we will not be driven out by anyone," the March letter said. "We don't want a bloodbath, but we will not be driven out by anyone."
In the end, members of the block is so shish and lost their homes to fire.
Despite their loss and their miseries, many of the residents seemed acquiescent toward Monday's police action. There was no sign of any deep-seeded hostility towards the police. "We initiated this fight and put pressure on the city to get these radical out," said Mr. Williams at the Red Cross shelter. It snowballed into more than the police could handle. It just turned out wrong."
Earl Watkins, 73, lost his home of 27 years at 6218 Osage. The fire also destroyed his collection of 500 records that includes some Duke Ellington originals from 1937. I went to church Sunday and I prayed for move The and I prayed for the police, and I'm not angry at anyone," Mr. Watkins said, as he waited for the police to allow him to inspect his ruins.
"But I feel I've lost my best friend — my home."
He excused himself.
"I'm going to take a look at it now and say goodbye."
p. A1 & B9
Bomb Was Not Incendiary
The bomb the police dropped Monday night on the house of an armed radical group in Philadelphia was an explosive device made by the city bomb squad, Philadelphia officials said today.
The device, they said, was designed to destroy a rough bunker and to give the police access to the house.
Monday night, spokesmen variously asserted that the device was a satchel charge, a percussion bomb or a firebomb.
Subsequently, however, all city officials questioned about the bomb agreed that it was not an incendiary device, or a firebomb. A fire that started after the bomb was dropped spread to more than 50 row houses.
Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor said today that the bomb was made of DuPont Tovex, an explosive commonly used in mining, similar to dynamite but more stable. The charge, he said, was made up of two 1 pound tubes and had a fuse with a 45 second delay.
Similar packages of explosives had been tested extensively at the police academy, the Commissioner said. They successfully moved the intended target and "never caused any fire during the tasks," he said. "There would not have been a fire if it had not been assisted by an inflammatory."
There were some reports that members of the radical group, called Move, stored gasoline in the bunker and that the fire began there. The City Managing Director, Leo Brooks, said, "the only thing I can say is that they may have had incendiary materials because there had been previous reports of them pulling up gasoline cans on the roof. Whether or not this is a fact, I cannot answer."
Koch Rejects Bombing Tactic
Mayor Koch, reacted yesterday to the use of explosives to end a siege at the headquarters of a radical group in Philadelphia, criticized the Philadelphia police for bombing the house.
"If I had a police commissioner who was so stupid to allow a bomb to be thrown into a house, I would remove him before he would allow that to go through," the Mayor said to reporters at City Hall.
"To bomb a house, not knowing what would happen, doesn't make any sense to me," the Mayor said. "In my judgment you should never drop a bomb on a house, period, as a mechanism for securing the surrender of those in the house when the dropping of the bomb will endanger those in the house, who ought not to be bombed but apprehended. I just cannot believe that's an appropriate way of seeking to capture someone."
Mr. Koch prefaced many of his remarks by saying that he did not want to add to the problems of Mayor W. Wilson Goode of Philadelphia, and repeatedly described him as a "good Mayor."
Mr. Koch acknowledged that the New York City Police Department had had problems, including allegations that some officers in a Queens precinct tortured prisoners with an electric prod. He said he never would have thought that was possible, so he would not say that what happened in Philadelphia could never happen in New York City, "but I doubt we would ever tolerate the bombing of a house in order to drive people out."
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