THE BOY grew up to become an image of his dead father, their smiles so wide and similar. A living ghost that haunts Jack Gilbride.
Gilbride, 75, is connected to and divided from both of them by blood. His son, John Gilbride, was mired in a chaotic custody battle with his ex-wife, the former Alberta Africa of the MOVE organization, when he was slain by an unknown assassin in South Jersey 12 years ago today.
Gilbride hasn't seen his grandson Zack, the object of that custody battle, since 2004. That's when the supervised visits at Africa's house in Cherry Hill became too painful and frustrating. He sees Zack's familiar face only on the Internet today, in pictures, but he hoped that the itch of adolescence or even glances in the mirror would have planted questions in the boy's head as he grew into a man.
"They could be brothers. They could be twins," Gilbride said of his son and grandson this week from his home in Herndon, Va.
Gilbride wrote a 271-page book about his son called "A Father's Sacrifice: Unconditional Love," in 2012, hoping that somehow Zack would get a chance to read it.
"I really wrote it just for him," he said.
The Daily News reached out via social media to Zack, who no longer uses the Gilbride name, shortly after his 18th birthday in May, to see if he'd like to talk about his father. He declined.
In the weeks and months that led up to John Gilbride's slaying, MOVE was preparing for a confrontation over Zack, boarding up their windows in West Philly and holding marches and demonstrations on both sides of the river.
Tony Allen, a former MOVE member who's become a vocal critic of the group, said he used to "stalk" Gilbride for the organization during the custody battle.
"This was an ongoing crusade and it was all of the resources of the organization, all directed at discrediting John," Allen said recently. "At any given time they knew where he was."
On the night of Sept 27, 2002, at about 11:30 p.m., the custody battle ended when a gunman approached John Gilbride as he sat inside his 1985 Ford Crown Victoria LTD outside his apartment in Maple Shade. Multiple shots were fired through the driver's-side window, striking Gilbride in the head and chest.
John Gilbride, a baggage supervisor for US Airways, was scheduled to have his first unsupervised visit with Zack, then 6, the next morning. MOVE had vowed to never let that happen.
A spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office said recently, "There are no new developments in that investigation."
In past interviews, a Philadelphia police liaison to MOVE suggested that Gilbride could have been killed over gambling debts and told the Daily News he doubted that MOVE was involved.
Gilbride and Allen have long wondered whether investigators were reluctant to take a hard look at MOVE, always mindful of the 1985 confrontation that led to the bombing of the MOVE house on Osage Avenue, which killed 11 MOVE members and burned most of the neighborhood, permanently scarring the city.
Gilbride said there was a clear motive, but "still, I can't accuse her [Alberta] of something I can't prove."
Alberta Africa, now Alberta Wonderlin, was visibly distraught in the days after Gilbride's 2002 slaying. She and MOVE members sometimes said he was killed by the government and often questioned whether he was dead at all.
After the slaying, Jack Gilbride said that he and his wife had several visits with Zack at the home in Cherry Hill and that they were always difficult. There were often MOVE members in the house watching them, he said. Zack mostly ignored the Gilbrides and played with a friend he remains close with today.
When Gilbride's wife died of multiple myeloma in 2004, he went to visit Zack a few more times alone, but finally had enough. He thinks his last visit was around December of that year.
"I stood up, around 3 p.m., and said, 'I am leaving.' I said, 'This is ridiculous.' "
In the decade that's passed, Gilbride and his daughters tried to call a few times, unsuccessfully. They'd heard that Zack was into fencing and swimming and piano.
Today, seen through posts he's made on social-media sites that Zack is living every young man's dream: snowboarding, playing piano and going to electronic dance and hip-hop shows, surrounded by friends, drinks, high fashion and finely tuned lattes. According to his Instagram page, he's made frequent trips to Amsterdam, Spain and Poland in recent years.
The pictures are bittersweet to Gilbride.
Zack appears to be intelligent and talented, he said, someone he could see "being comfortable at a cocktail party," but they remind him of everything they've missed together - the weddings, birthdays and funerals, including his grandmother's.
Gilbride also thinks there could be tactical reason for Zack's travels, based on old conversations he had with his son.
Gilbride said John told him once that when he and Alberta were out walking one night in Paris that "she laid out her plans for Zack's future. He'd be educated, and trained and feel comfortable socializing with the rich in Europe and be able to [raise] money for the MOVE organization."
Zack has also posted pictures of himself in West Philadelphia, where MOVE relocated to 45th Street and Kingsessing Avenues after the 1985 bombing, but none of his posts appear to any have political or religious messages.
When the Daily News reached out to the MOVE organization to discuss how Zack was doing, a woman simply said "fine." When asked to discuss the anniversary of the John Gilbride slaying, MOVE referred comments to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.
"We don't know what happened to him," the organization responded in an email.
When the Daily News sent a text message recently to a cellphone number affiliated with Alberta Wonderlin and her husband, Gary, there was a confusing reply that appeared to come from Zack himself.
"I was only a child when that stuff happened with John," the message said. "It's because of people like you and this government that I don't have my father right now."
Gilbride doesn't believe that Zack sent the message. At least, he doesn't want to believe it.
"I think I'm right, but I could be wrong," Gilbride said. "If it is him, and he's that well indoctrinated that he doesn't even believe his father was murdered, there's not much I can do."
As he gets older and the prospect of an arrest seems no closer than it did 12 years ago, Gilbride said he simply wants his grandson to know that his father loved him and fought for him.
If Zack reads the book to the end, he would find a handwritten note on the last page, just 40 words long. Jack Gilbride found the note in his son's belongings after he died, a letter from a worried father to a son too young to read it.
"Please Zack as you get older don't forget that I died fighting to stop your mother from taking you away from me forever," John Gilbride wrote. "No matter where you are, I am with you and I love you more than anything Zack."