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Dr. Thomas Farley at the announcement of the first case of coronavirus in Philadelphia. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA News.
Dr. Thomas Farley at the announcement of the first case of coronavirus in Philadelphia. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA News.

Philly Health Commissioner Thomas Farley resigns over decision to cremate and dispose of MOVE bombing victim remains

Farley's knowledge was revealed to Mayor Jim Kenney earlier in the week, according to a press release from Kenney’s office.

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After weathering criticisms and controversies throughout Philadelphia’s battle with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is something unrelated to coronavirus that has brought the resignation of City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. 

It does, however, lay bare more than three decades of neglect from city leadership regarding the circumstances and aftermath of 1985’s infamous MOVE bombing. 

It left 11 people dead, including five children, and many more displaced, as 61 homes were destroyed in the blaze resulting from the city’s decision to firebomb a house at 6221 Osage Ave. in West Philadelphia.

May 13, 2021 marks the 36th anniversary of the tragedy.

In a press release from Mayor Jim Kenney’s office announcing Farley’s resignation from his post, it was revealed that during Kenney’s first term, the now-former health commissioner had learned of remains from the MOVE bombing discovered by the city’s Medical Examiner’s Office.

“Instead of fully identifying those remains and returning them to the family, he made a decision to cremate and dispose of them,” said Kenney in the press release.

It then goes on to say that Farley revealed this fact to a deputy managing director earlier this week. As a result, Kenney asked for the health commissioner’s immediate resignation. Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Gulino has also been placed on administrative leave for the time being.

“This action lacked empathy for the victims, their family, and the deep pain that the MOVE bombing has brought to our city for nearly four decades,” said Kenney.

The mayor also revealed that his office has retained the services of Dechert LLC to conduct a full internal review of the incident in hopes of providing a full picture for the Africa family about who in the administration knew what about the incident involving Farley’s decision on the MOVE remains.

Farley’s resignation also comes on the heels of major protests in support of the Africa family after it was revealed by The Philadelphia Inquirer and Billy Penn that the Penn Museum and Princeton had housed the remains of Tree and Delicia Phillips Africa for a number of years, even using them in some educational videos.

All was done without the knowledge of the Africa family.

For Farley’s actions, Kenney issued a formal apology to the family. Dr. Cheryl Bettigole will assume the role of Acting Health Commissioner and a nationwide search will begin for a replacement.

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