After a set of tumultuous revelations last week about the mishandling of victims’ remains from the 1985 MOVE bombing, Mayor Jim Kenney on Sunday said his administration will be reviewing operations at the Medical Examiner’s Office “as it relates to racial equity,” and briefly outlined other actions that will run in parallel to an independent investigation.
On Thursday, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley resigned after admitting he directed that the remains of some bombing victims be cremated and disposed of in 2017, without notifying family members.
Then, on Friday, Kenney disclosed that the remains had not been destroyed, after all. Kenney said he personally informed members of the Africa family that a box of the remains was located. An attorney for the family said a subordinate had apparently disobeyed Farley’s 2017 order.
“We are getting to the bottom of many different disturbing questions, including why these remains were held for decades, and why they were still held after being directed to be cremated,” Kenney said in a statement Sunday. “The remains can finally be returned to the next of kin and handled respectfully moving forward.”
As an independent investigation starts, the city is taking additional steps, he said.
An “overhaul” of policies and procedures at the Medical Examiner’s Office is “certainly on the table,” Kenney said. “We will be engaging experts in this field and are reviewing best practice, especially as it relates to racial equity.”
The mayor also said his administration is evaluating “how the MOVE bombing is commemorated in our city over the long term.”
May 13 marked the 36th anniversary of the day police dropped a bomb on the West Philadelphia rowhouse belonging to MOVE, a Black liberation and activist group. The bombing killed 11 people, five of them children. Dozens of homes were destroyed in the predominantly Black neighborhood.
“This latest unfortunate incident will not be in vain if we use it as a catalyst for finally doing right by the victims of the MOVE bombing and their families,” Kenney said Sunday.
Cheryl Bettigole will continue to serve as acting health commissioner on an interim basis as the city searches for a permanent successor. “This recent development does not change anything relative to Dr. Farley’s resignation,” Kenney said.