The remains of the victims of the MOVE bombing, who were previously cremated and dumped by Mayor Jim Kenny’s administration without notifying their relatives, have never been destroyed, city officials acknowledged on Friday night, the latest twist in a saga worth of the work of the city health commissioner and exacerbated tensions over the treatment of black Philadelphians.
The revelation came after city officials learned that a subordinate had apparently disobeyed an order from Health Commissioner Thomas Farley in 2017 to dispose of the remains, said Leon A. Williams, a lawyer for the family of MOVE victims. Mayor Jim Kenny said in a statement late Friday that he had personally informed the family of the discovery.
“I am reassured that these remains have been found and not destroyed, but I also regret the unnecessary pain that this ordeal has caused the African family,”
Farley, the city’s best health official since 2016 and the most prominent administration official during the coronavirus pandemic, resigned on Thursday after admitting he ordered the remains cremated and destroyed without notifying Africa. .
But the remains were unexpectedly found in a box during a search Friday in the basement of the medical expert’s office, according to a city official who knew the service’s operations but was not authorized to discuss them publicly.
This man said that an employee in the ranking initially declared that the office could keep the remains until next week, but another employee insisted that the office deal with the problem immediately. Then the African family was brought.
Questions left unanswered on Friday include whose remains are in the box and why the city has kept them for so long. Most of the remains of the scandalous 1985 bombing in West Philadelphia – which killed 11 people – were released from the medical expert’s office in 1986 and buried in Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Delaware.
Farley, who ordered medical expert Sam Gulino to dispose of the remains in 2017, said he had acted unilaterally and had not disclosed the decision to other city officials until this week. After hearing the news, the mayor said he had asked for Farley’s resignation, put Gulino on administrative leave and hired the law firm Dechert to investigate the incident.
This investigation will continue, Kenny said Friday night and the city will return the remains of the victims’ family.
Earlier in the day, Kenny offered new details on the case: He said two cardboard boxes were found in the medical expert’s office while staff members cleaned the space four years ago to move to another building. There were remains in one box labeled “MOVE” and documents in the other, he said. The remains are “partial bone fragments” or perhaps teeth, according to the mayor.
The mayor said he would change the city’s policy on disposing of remains. But what this policy allows remains unclear.
In a statement to The Inquirer on Thursday, Farley said it was standard procedure for medical experts to detain “certain samples” from autopsies in case they were needed for further investigation. They were later dumped “without notifying anyone,” he said.
Kenny’s spokeswoman Diana Gamble said the Medical Expert Office has no written policy on handling the remains. She said the administration is working to determine if there is a policy to deal with the unique situation of the remains, which are more than 30 years old, and is looking at samples that can be used to identify DNA. Gamble said there were “many unidentified remains” from various cases in the office.
“This whole incident has shown us that there are areas for improvement in the policies and procedures of the medical expert’s office,” she said in a statement.
The announcement of Farley’s resignation on Thursday came on the 36th anniversary of the bombing that followed a police clash with the activist group and sparked a fire that killed 11 people and destroyed more than 60 homes in their neighborhood. It also came weeks after another scandal involving the remains of a MOVE victim; The Penn Museum arranged last month to return bone fragments from a girl – believed to be the 14-year-old Tree of Africa – who died in the attack. These remains have been distributed for decades among researchers and staff at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University.
Farley said the news about Penn and Princeton made him reconsider his actions.
The news of Farley’s actions and resignation drew sharp criticism and attracted national headlines; community members and elected officials cited it as an example of systemic racism, and city officials struggled to explain where or how the dumping took place.
“People treat their pets better than these people were treated to death,” Kenny told reporters after an unrelated press conference on Friday afternoon, hours before the announcement that the remains had been found.
Kenny met with Africans on Thursday and vowed to work with the family, which he said had been disrespected by the city for years as his administration investigated the incident. The city’s first apology for the attack came last year, when the Municipal Council voted to apologize and make May 13 an annual day of remembrance.
“I understand their distrust,” Kenny told reporters on Friday. “And I understand that there is no reason for you to believe me.”
Given the impact of the MOVE bombings, some questioned how the Philadelphia health commissioner could have made such a decision without consulting other city officials.
“MOVE has been such an important event in our lives,” said Mark Zeka, who worked as a senior attorney for the Philadelphia legal department from 1992 to 2012. know consult the legal department before destroying any evidence on this matter. “
Farley, who previously served as New York’s health commissioner, was hired by Kenny in 2016 to lead the department in Philadelphia. In an interview last year, he told The Inquirer about his experience working in public health in Louisiana after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, in New York during the spread of swine flu and in Philadelphia during the coronavirus pandemic. important lessons.
“It’s very important to be very honest with people in order to have confidence,” he said.
Staff team Ellie Rushing, Erin McCarthy and David Gambacorta contributed to this article.