'Birdie Africa,' Child Icon Of 1985 Philly MOVE Bombing, Dies

Sep 25, 2013
Originally published on September 25, 2013 8:28 pm

Michael Ward, one of only two survivors of the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia, died on Friday.

Ward, who was known as "Birdie Africa," became an icon of the disaster. It happened on May 13, 1985, when police had an armed confrontation with the radical group MOVE. Police were intent on removing the members from their fortified compound and as the day wore on, after thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired, police dropped a bomb from a helicopter on the group's house in West Philadelphia.

The explosives started a fire that destroyed 61 row houses and killed 11 people, including five children. Ward, who was 13 at the time, came to national prominence when he ran naked out of the burning compound, his body covered in second- and third-degree burns.

NPR member station WHYY reports that Ward, 41, was found unconscious in a hot tub aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean on Friday.

Initial signs, the Brevard County, Fla., Medical Examiner's office told WHYY, "indicated an accidental drowning, but the office will await the return of toxicology tests before determining a cause of death."

In its obituary of Ward, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the bombing left Ward "with lifelong burn scars on his abdomen, arms and face, and Philadelphia with a global reputation as the city that bombed its own people."

In interviews with the paper in 1995 and 2005, Ward said that he thought about the incident but did not dwell on it.

"I didn't like being there," Ward told the paper about the MOVE compound. "They said it was a family, but a family isn't something where you are forced to stay when you don't want to. And none of us wanted to stay, none of the kids. We were always planning ways to run away, but we were too little. We didn't know how to get away. And we were scared."

He said his only regret was that he was hurt and his mother died in the incident.

"I feel bad for the people who died, but I don't have any anger toward anybody," he told the paper. "See, I got out."

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