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Two Years Later, MOVE Neighbors Grieve For Children

May 13, 1987

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Two years after the MOVE siege that killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes, the residents of Osage Avenue try to forget that day, but many continue to grieve for the children who died and they blame the city for destroying their homes and possessions.

″I don’t talk about it,″ said Kim Foskey, who was living in her childhood home on Osage Avenue on May 13, 1985, when police dropped a bomb on MOVE’s fortified row house to try to evict members of the radical group. That started a fire that turned a block of west Philadelphia to rubble.

Someone placed a bright red heart-shaped wreath Wednesday where the MOVE house once stood, and where 11 people died, including five children. The office of the Redevelopment Authority is now located on that property.

The staff noticed the wreath when they opened the office about 9 a.m. Wednesday, said Michael Arno, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority. He noted it had been a quiet day.

″It hurts too much. It’s like a cut - you have to stop opening it up,″ Ms. Foskey said.

Clifford Bond, who had urged the city to take action against MOVE before the fatal confrontation, said he would mark the anniversary by remembering the children who died in the fire.

″People seem to forget that children died,″ Bond said. ″But we lost those children, and nobody’s been held responsible or accountable.″

Milton Garnett, a longtime Osage Avenue resident, didn’t plan any special activities to mark the second anniversary of the confrontation.

″You don’t let nothing stay on your mind forever,″ Garnett said. ″You live from one day to the other and pray things will be all right. All I say is, thank God we’re back and living.″

Nearly all of the families moved back into their new city-built homes by last Christmas. But the reconstruction project was marred by cost overruns and the arrest last week of builders Ernest A. Edwards Jr. and Oscar Harris who are accused of stealing money from the project. A preliminary hearing for the two scheduled for Wednesday was continued until July 13.

The siege also has become an issue in the mayoral election. Former District Attorney Edward Rendell, Mayor W. Wilson Goode’s chief opponent in the Democratic primary, has a television commerical condemning the mayor’s competence and showing the burning homes.

Former Mayor Frank Rizzo, a Republican, has called Goode ″the bomber.″

″By destroying my home, they destroyed my past,″ said Kermit Bostic, who had a black ribbon hanging in his window to mark the anniversary. ″And the past can never be forgotten.″

Ramona Johnson Africa, 32, the only adult MOVE survivor of the fire, accused police of firing at people trying to escape the burning compound.

″It was dense, but I could see, I could hear the bullets and hear the bullets whizzing around,″ Ms. Africa said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ms. Africa, who has been jailed at the State Correctional Institution in Muncy since escaping the fire, told the newspaper that if she saw ″certain cops″ again, she could identify them.

A MOVE commission pathologist discovered gunshot-like fragments in the remains of two of the victims, but said he could not determine whether their deaths were caused by the gunfire, the impact of the bomb or the fire that the bomb ignited.

Ms. Africa said she is still bitter, but she said there is no significance in memorializing a tragedy.

″I grieve for my family, but it makes me more determined,″ she said. ″If people feel that something atrocious happened, they should be rectifying it to make sure it doesn’t happen again.″

Some remain bitter about how city officials handled the reconstruction.

″They treated us as if we were the homeless and they were going to build homes for us, and whatever they built we should have been grateful,″ said Wayne Renfrow. ″They treated us as if we were given something.″

A stream of tourists, as many as 100 a day, who continue to drive down the street are a constant reminder of the tragedy, residents say.

″The parade just keeps coming,″ Bond said. ″You’ll have that for years. It’s a national landmark.″

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