Philadelphia health commissioner resigns after revelations he cremated, disposed of MOVE bombing victims' remains

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) on Thursday announced that he asked the city’s health commissioner to resign after learning that he had cremated and disposed of some remains belonging to victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing without family consent.

Kenney said in a statement that it was only this week when he learned that health commissioner Thomas Farley discovered remains in the medical examiner’s office back in 2017 belonging to victims in the police bombing, who were members of the Black liberation group MOVE.

Farley said he believed that any subsequent investigation into their deaths had long been completed, so he instructed medical examiner Sam Gulino to dispose of the bones and bone fragments. There were no attempts to identify the remains and return them to family.

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"I profoundly regret making this decision without consulting the family members of the victims and I extend my deepest apologies for the pain this will cause them," Farley said in a statement to CNN.

It is unclear why the medical examiner’s office had held onto the remains for so long, according to Kenney. The city does not have details on the type of remains, to whom they belonged or how many victims' remains were disposed of.

The mayor’s office also placed Gulino on administrative leave pending a full investigation.

All members of the MOVE group go by the last name “Africa,” CNN noted.

Kenney said the Africa family learned of the incident through him privately before the announcement. 

“I had the opportunity to meet with members of the Africa family and apologize for the way this situation was handled, and for how the City has treated them for the last five decades,” Kenney said in a statement. “I also promised them full transparency into the outside review of this incident, as well as the handling — or mishandling — of all remains of every MOVE victim. The Team investigating this incident will include individuals specifically approved by the Africa family and we will make every effort to resolve this matter to MOVE’s satisfaction.”

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The announcement coincided with the 36th anniversary of the bombing, which killed eleven Black Philadelphians, including five children, and destroyed 61 homes.

“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,” Kenney said, noting that a local commemoration of the bombing is being planned.

Police had dubbed the group as "radical" and clashed with members several times before the events of May 13, 1985, when Philadelphia police fired 10,000 rounds of ammunition into a row house occupied by MOVE. Military-grade explosives were then dropped on the home, burning the entire city block.

Kenney told CNN that the remains related to Farley's resignation were separate from those rediscovered in April in the possession of Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania.

A former professor, Alan Mann, had used the bone fragments as research specimens in online courses without the family’s consent. The medical examiner’s office had reportedly turned over the bones to Mann for help identifying the victims. Mann said he was never able to so he held onto them, never notifying the family.

He returned the remains to a funeral home in April, CNN reported. Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the affiliated Penn Museum all issued apologies for their involvement and canceled the courses.