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Arms Cache, More Bodies Found in Radicals' House : MOVE Role in Starting Fire Hinted

May 15, 1985|From Times Wire Services

PHILADELPHIA — At least two more incinerated bodies and a cache of weapons were found today in the ruins of a radical cult's fortified row house, and police searching the debris with heavy machinery and long-handled prongs reported finding still more bones.

One of the bodies found today was a child and the other was an adult male, police said. Two children were among the six bodies found Tuesday in the ruins of the house once occupied by the MOVE cult.

"We're taking one shovel at a time," said police spokesman Lt. Jerry Whartenby. "We're looking for any kind of evidence to tell us what went on, any more bodies that may or may not be there, weapons, ammo, things of that sort."

Clarence Mosley, the city's assistant city managing director, said searchers had spotted what looked like bones and a skull in a rear portion of the house--apparently the ninth and 10th bodies to be found.

Police assaulted the house on Monday with bullets, water hoses, tear gas and finally a two-pound bomb. An ensuing fire burned 61 homes and uprooted at least 225 residents of the West Philadelphia neighborhood.

Two shotguns and a rifle were found today, Mosley said, and pieces which police at first thought were bomb material. That proved untrue, he said, but added that a substantial quantity of .38-caliber ammunition had been found.

Meanwhile the city's police commissioner said officials now believe that the MOVE members who had been barricaded in the house had a hand in starting the fire and that members had apparently spread flammable material around their compound.

Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor, interviewed today on the "CBS Morning News," said, "We did not create any fire."

"The fire did start inside the house," said Sambor, who ordered the bomb dropped. He said police had tested the bomb on wood-and-tar paper structures without starting any fires.

"To the best of our knowledge, the MOVE members had spread flammable material in their compound and in neighboring areas," he said, in explaining why the fire burned so hot and spread so quickly.

MOVE members had said they were "prepared to die," he said.

Immediate Flames

Television film, however, showed flames coming from the roof immediately after the bomb hit.

Some reports had said as many as 12 adults and 10 children had been holed up in the heavily fortified house before the police tried to clear them out. Area residents had complained to authorities before the incident about rat-infested premises and about MOVE members' cursing and assaulting them.

Police in a helicopter dropped a bomb on the house Monday night to destroy a rooftop bunker and a fire started, eventually spreading to 61 houses. (Stories, Pages 8, 11, 12)

City officials were sharply criticized today for dropping the bomb from a police helicopter onto the roof of the house.

"Dropping the bomb was the first mistake, and it was followed by the catastrophe of letting it burn," state Sen. Vincent Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat, said.

2 of Group Survive

But Mayor W. Wilson Goode defended the bombing, saying it was intended to destroy the bunker and perhaps blow a hole in the roof of the house to help gain entry.

Two members of the MOVE group survived the inferno.

Ramona Africa, 30, who fled the burning house Monday night and was arrested, was ordered held on $3-million bail on charges that included aggravated assault, weapons offenses and conspiracy.

A 13-year-old boy, Birdie Africa, who also escaped the fire, remained hospitalized with second-degree burns over parts of his body.

"His doctor says he's really in fine shape," said Children's Hospital spokeswoman Patricia Usner. "He's resting comfortably. (The doctor) said he's a stoic and strong child and he's handling it well so far."

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