Police sifting through the smoldering rubble of the headquarters of MOVE, a bizarre radical cult, found six bodies Tuesday, while Mayor W. Wilson Goode pledged to rebuild an entire neighborhood and defended police tactics that ended a shoot-out with the radicals, but set 60 homes ablaze.
Several of the bodies were found in the basement of the house the cult had occupied, which had been turned into a fortified bunker. The dead included at least two children.
As darkness fell, the search through the ashes was abandoned for the night amid official concern that the death toll could go higher.
Goode promised that by Christmas 61 families--about 300 men, women and children, who were burned out of their homes Monday evening--would be returned to rebuilt dwellings.
In a late evening news conference with Goode and other top officials, Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor described in detail the device dropped on the MOVE building that touched off the blaze. He said it consisted of two one-pound tubes of Du Pont Tovex, a blasting agent used in mining operations that he said is “the equivalent of dynamite and much safer to handle.”
He said the city’s bomb squad had conducted numerous tests of Tovex and “there was never in any of these tests any fire.”
“There would never have been any fire unless it was assisted by some inflammatory (sic) material (already inside the house),” the commissioner said.
Goode said at the news conference that destruction in the neighborhood would exceed $4.2 million.
Goode said also that police are conducting surveillances of two other MOVE-occupied houses in Philadelphia and that city officials are consulting with prosecutors on what possible action could be taken against other members of the organization.
Sambor said that in his 35 years on the force he had not seen such fortifications as MOVE had constructed inside the row house. He said MOVE had even hauled “thick tree trunks,” their bark still intact, into the house. Holes for shooting ports were cut in the trunks, Sambor said.
Meanwhile, city officials faced sharp questions over police tactics used to oust MOVE from the two-story brick row house in a normally tranquil middle-class neighborhood on Philadelphia’s west side.
In his televised address Tuesday night, Goode defended the bombing, even though there was evidence that children were inside the house at the time.
“If I had to make this same decision again I would make the same decision,” Goode said, facing clearly what is the worst crisis of his administration.
He said the first plan was to use tear gas and water cannons to take off the bunker on the roof of the house.
‘Plan Was a Good One’
“We felt that by moving the bunker, we could force MOVE members from the house . . . and carry through our plan to protect life,” Goode said. “The plan was a good one. It could have worked.”
He said also that police had learned about six weeks ago that MOVE members might be building tunnels under other houses with the intention of using explosives to blow up the entire block “to make international headlines.”
The mayor said the city was “concerned about explosives under all those homes.”
“We cannot permit one terrorist group to hold a neighborhood hostage,” Goode said. “We had been told they were prepared to die, to go on a suicide mission. If I had to make the decision over again, it was the right decision.”
The mayor added: “I do not like the result.”
Manhunt Under Way
The mayor said a massive manhunt was under way for any remaining MOVE members who may have escaped the huge blaze, touched off when a police helicopter dropped the explosive device on the fortified bunker the group erected on top of its row house.
The result was clear for all to see. The block looked like Berlin after World War II. Once-well-kept homes were shells of brick and plaster. Clothing, furniture, appliances, the everyday paraphernalia of living, were reduced to ashes by the massive blaze that seared the leaves off trees and lighted the Philadelphia skyline for hours.
Fire Comissioner William Richmond at one point turned to a young rookie fighting the blaze. He told him: “It will never get worse than this.”
‘A Horrible Fire’
“It was a horrible fire,” Richmond said. “It was a very tough fire situation.”
Richmond said he gave his men orders not to advance on the flames because he said MOVE’s members were sniping at them.
“We’re firefighters,” Richmond told a news conference. “We’re not infantrymen.”
Nevertheless, he stressed, the plan to take out the bunker was strictly a police operation. Sambor, the police commissioner, said the device dropped by the helicopter had been tested and it was not expected to spark an inferno. Richmond said, however, that firemen had expected the device to touch off a small fire that would disable the rooftop bunker and allow authorities to enter the building from its roof.
These tactics are sure to come under close scrutiny in the days to come.
Panel Will Investigate
Questions already were being raised Tuesday in the Philadelphia City Council, where council member Joan Specter called for a “blue-ribbon panel” to investigate the raid.
“I think there are more questions than anything else,” she said.
Goode pledged to appoint a panel to investigate the entire incident. In August, 1978, when Frank Rizzo was mayor, police raided a similar MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia. During that siege, in which gunfire was exchanged, a policeman was killed but none of the cult’s followers were seriously hurt.
On Tuesday when police got their first close look at what had been the MOVE compound, the result of the fire and the gunfight was devastating. Half-inch-thick steel plates erected as armor by MOVE were pierced numerous times by police bullets. Police said the group apparently had erected bunkers of steel and wood not only on the roof but in the basement and upper floors of the building. In short, an ordinary house had been turned into a fortress.
Entire Structure Fell
Because of the fire, the entire structure had collapsed from the roof downward and police were having difficulty determining which remnants came from which parts of the house.
In addition, Goode said, police before the siege had received intelligence reports that MOVE’s members might have dug escape tunnels to other residences. However, the intensity of the damage hampered the search for such escape routes and none apparently had been discovered by dusk, when operations were halted for the night.
Richmond, the fire commissioner, said the original plan was to not only bomb the bunker but to set it afire in a small blaze that would drop it through the roof, thus forcing people out of the house. Nevertheless, critics of the strategy charged that water cannons were turned on too late, allowing the small bunker blaze to get out of control.
“There was no indication what was going to happen would happen,” Richmond said.
Intended ‘to Save Lives’
Similarly, Police Commissioner Sambor said: “As far as we’re concerned, there was no possible danger to the children.” He also said that the maneuver was “one intending to save lives.”
Goode said he had been informed of the plan to drop the device during a three-minute phone conversation with Leo Brooks, the city’s managing director, a top cabinet official. The mayor said he asked no questions of Brooks and expressed no reservations about the tactic.
Goode said he relied on the judgment of the operations people in the field.
At times during his midday news conference, the mayor was testy. He criticized news reports that bodies had been found which were circulated prior to the release of official confirmations.
Labor Official’s Pledge
The mayor said he had met with business and labor leaders who had pledged their cooperation in efforts to speedily rebuild the destroyed row houses. Patrick Gillespie, business manager of the Building Trades Council, said construction workers had pledged to work in their spare time on weekends to expedite the reconstruction.
“We can have those 60 families back in a quality home by Christmas,” the labor official said.
The mayor traveled to the scene for the first time Tuesday and met with many of the residents who had been driven from their houses by the blaze. Some seemed stunned by what had happened to them.
“We will make you whole again,” the mayor pledged. “I regret with every ounce of energy in me what happened with those homes. We will rebuild the homes. It will get my utmost attention.”
He repeated the reassurance during a televised dinnertime address to the city.
Castigation of MOVE
The mayor coupled his promise with castigation of MOVE, calling the tiny radical organization, founded in 1972, “a group dedicated to the entire destruction of our way of life.”
Seeking answers as to why the blaze became so intense, police said that they found drums in the house that could have contained volatile chemicals including naphtha and gasoline.
Investigator’s faces showed the strain of the terrible string of events on Osage Avenue. They said it is possible that there are more bodies buried beneath the rubble. The fortifications, they said, were “like a big log cabin in a home.”
Early Tuesday morning, Ramona Africa, the only adult MOVE member from the house taken into custody so far, was held in lieu of $3-million bail. She was charged with a catalogue of offenses including aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, criminal conspiracy, resisting arrest, illegal weapons possession and inciting to riot. During her three-minute arraignment she loudly and repeatedly cursed Charles E. Murray, the bail commissioner.
The anxiety was not just confined to the police and residents of the neighborhood. One Philadelphia resident, Bessie Mullins, said her daughter had in the past lived in the MOVE house. She said she was waiting anxiously by the telephone for word of her daughter’s fate.
Asked if she had reason to believe if her daughter was in the house Monday during the clash and fire, Mullins said, “I do and I’m hoping she wasn’t”.