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Birdie Africa, Survivor of MOVE Bombing Dies, at 41

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Michael Ward, one of only two survivors of the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia, died on Friday. Ward, 41, was found unconscious in a hot tub aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean on Friday

Mr. Ward’s father, Andino, said Wednesday that he and his son were vacationing with relatives. “It was a family cruise,” Ward said. “It was my 30th wedding anniversary and his sister’s 10th anniversary, and her in-laws’ 50th anniversary. So all of the kids treated us to an anniversary cruise.”

The Brevard County, Florida, Medical Examiner’s told WHYY that initial signs, “indicated an accidental drowning, but the office will await the return of toxicology tests before determining a cause of death.”

Ward, who was known as “Birdie Africa,” became an icon of the disaster. According to NPR, it happened on May 13, 1985. On that fateful day, police had an armed confrontation with the radical group MOVE, who were known for their confrontations with police. Police were trying to remove the members from their fortified compound by force. 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, 13 at the time, gained national prominence when he ran naked out of the burning compound, His body covered in second- and third-degree burns. The bombing left Ward with lifelong burn scars on his abdomen, arms and face, and Philadelphia with a reputation as the city that bombed its own people.

“I didn’t like being there,” Ward told the Philidelphia Enquirer 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.”

Image via wikipedia

Birdie Africa, Survivor of MOVE Bombing Dies, at 41
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