Never Forget: In 1985 Police Dropped a Bomb on a West Philly Neighborhood; Killing 11 and Destroying 61 Homes


On May 13, 1985, at approximately 5:28 p.m., two, one-pound bombs were dropped onto a house at 6221 Osage Avenue. The bombs were dropped from about 60 feet above the house by a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter. It was recorded, that the 500+ police officers at the scene, fired approximately 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the direction of the house in 90 minutes. This act of terrorism caused the deaths of 11 people (6 adults and 5 children) and destroyed 61 houses in the predominately Black neighborhood of West Philadelphia.

The city police department had been locked in an ongoing feud with a group called MOVE. Founded by John Africa in 1972, the MOVE Organization, is a Philadelphia-based Black liberation group that preached revolution and advocated a return to a nature lifestyle. They lived communally and vowed to lead a life uninterrupted by the government, police, or technology. They were passionate supporters of animal rights and members adopted vegan diets. Members also adopted the surname “Africa.” Often times they would engage in public demonstrations related to issues they deemed important.

philly bombing

In preparation for a stand off, police evacuated the neighborhood on May 12th (the day before the bombing), telling residents they could return in 24 hours.  By early Monday morning on May 13th, there were more than 500 police officers surrounding the MOVE house. At 5:35 a.m., police gave four MOVE members named in arrest warrants, 15 minutes to surrender, however no one exited the house. When MOVE refused to surrender, the police began their attack with tear gas, smoke grenades, and water cannons. At some point during the attack, gun fire broke out. It’s unknown who fired first. Police say MOVE took the first shot. MOVE says the police fired first. The shooting continued for nearly 90 minutes. At 5:35 p.m., the type of bomb the police chose to drop on this residential, highly populated area of West Philadelphia was called a Tovex TR2. It was a commercial explosive, invented in the 1960’s as an option to dynamite, and its purpose was to dig trenches through rock in order to lay pipes. The bomb’s manufacturer, the DuPont Company, had an explosive products division located a little more than a half hour from Philadelphia in Delaware. However, no one from the fire or police department ever contacted DuPont to ask what could happen if TR2 were used in a residential neighborhood. Under the assumption that the two, 1-pound bombs wouldn’t be enough to breach the bunker, the police decided to strap a one-and-one-quarter-pound block of C-4 on top of the two Tovex bombs.

The Pennsylvania State Police helicopter took off from the command post at 63rd and Walnut, flew a few times over 6221 Osage Avenue, and then hovered 60 feet above the two-story house in the Black, middle-class West Philadelphia neighborhood. After radioing firefighters on the ground and lighting the bomb’s 45-second fuse — and with the official approval of Mayor W. Wilson Goode and at the insistence of Police Commissioner Gregore SamborLt. Frank Powell, chief of Philadelphia’s bomb disposal unit, tossed the bomb onto the roof of the bunker.

The resulting blast, lead to a large, bright orange ball of fire that reached 7,200 degrees Fahrenheit. The aftermath left 11 dead (including five completely innocent and defenseless children) and the incineration of 61 homes. Among the dead were, 7-year-old Tomasa, 9-year-old Delicia, 10-year-old Phil, 11-year-old Netta, 13-year-old Tree, and 25-year-old Rhonda. 

Once the bomb was dropped on the MOVE house, the city’s fire department that was already on the scene, was instructed to stand down and let the resulting fire destroy the building. The fire department stood idly by, as the intense fire spread and destroyed a total of 61 homes, most of them owned by residents who were forced to watch helplessly as their houses were consumed by fire. Although many of the block’s residents had complained about being besieged by MOVE members spreading their beliefs using a bullhorn, these same residents tried to stop the police siege of their community when they saw the police force that was deployed.

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philly bombingIn the wake of the bombing, the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (better known as the MOVE Commission) was formed to investigate the bombing. After extensive interviews, many of which were of police officers, the Commission said what took place was “criminally evil.” There is eyewitness testimony and evidence, to indicate that the people fleeing the burning building were shot at and shot by the police, as they exited into the back alley of the building. The Commission also stated on record, that this would never had happened “had the MOVE house and its occupants been situated in a comparable white neighborhood.” MOVE Commission Chairman William Brown, stated, “I firmly believe that more people got out than Birdie and Ramona and that’s something that still nags at me. I believe that someone, someday will deliver a deathbed confession …” And the Commission itself noted in Finding Number 28 of its official report that “police gunfire in the rear alley prevented the escape from the fire of some occupants of the MOVE house.

Even though the city of Philly had a Black mayor, Wilson Goode, and a Black city Managing Director, Leo Brooks, this atrocity was still allowed to occur. Even after the mayor had a meeting with 5 influential Black political leaders at his home on the morning of the bombing, he still gave the go-ahead to the police department to execute the dropping of the bombs.

“Were we wanted for rape, robbery, murder? No, nothing,” Ramona Africa, the only living MOVE survivor of that day, told the Guardian newspaper. Africa linked the bombing to the recent police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray: “These people that take an oath that swear to protect, save lives – the cops don’t defend poor people, poor white, black, Latino people. They don’t defend us, they kill us.


“All you have to do is look at the rash of police murders and the cops not being held accountable,” she added. “That should really alarm and outrage people, but the thing is that it’s happening today because it wasn’t stopped in ’85. The only justice that can be done is people seeing this system for what it is.”

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  1. How in the world have I never heard of this??? Its amazing how they can completely disappear history!!! We have to teach our children

    1. Romana Africa and the MOVE movement setup an ambush that killed Philadelphia Police officers, during what I think was corrupt and racist police commissioner Frank Rizzo. But Philadelphia’s first black mayor Wilson Goode dropped the bombs and the ball in this mess and black eye o.k. Philadelphia history

      1. All of that is wrong. During the first MOVE confrontation on Powelton Ave. One officer was killed by friendly fire. At the Osage confrontation, the police commissioner gave the orders to drop the bomb and to let the fire burn. The mayor wasn’t on the scene, but he should have been.

    2. I watched it on TV. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sure, the people they were trying to evict and arrest were hateful and violent creatures who did indeed violently resist arrest, but how anyone could choose to bomb an American neighborhood and destroy it is incomprehensible to me.

      Another thing: when the hoodlums (and innocent children) tried to escape the inferno, cops shot them dead as they ran from the burning buildings. It was a slaughter. And I have never understood how or why those who did this thing weren’t charged with mass murder.

      BTW: I’m not sure this is important, but I’m a white guy, and all the white people I knew were horrified at this thing. It was evil. That it happened in America is beyond belief.

      1. Your description of the MOVE families is totally incorrect. I lived in Philly from 1973 to 1977, and I loved it, but I left due to lack of employment. WHY? Because I wore dreadlocks then, and outside of the MOVE community that was not very common, nor was it acceptable. It was made very clear to me that I was unemployable because I belonged to MOVE. I knew about that group, and I admired them, but I had no inkling whatsoever of their inner culture. Did not know one single person from their community which was in a different location at that time ( 33rd Street in Powelton Village, an area of prime real estate ). The troubles began there when the neighborhood complained continuously about their agrarian lifestyle in such a tony neighborhood, and the cops began to continually harass them and finally evict them illegally and forcefully, leaving one cop dead and several others in the scenario, on both sides, wounded. Thus their move to the bombing site.

        1. They weren’t violent. The neighbors complained in each location: Powelton and Osage because the MOVE group had dogs and did not clean the poo. They thought that it was natural to let it lay in their yard. But it made their yard stink. The neighbors complained to licensing and inspections that it was a health code violation. The ignored fines became warrants which became police action in each case. The first police action resulted in an officer being killed by friendly fire. The second action resulted in 11 deaths and the burning of two city blocks. All over dog poop.

      2. Do you honestly believe this would’ve occurred if it were a white supremist group in a white neighborhood? Why can’t some Caucasian people just can’t say ” yeah they only killed them because they’re black”!!

      3. So disgusted by this show of no mercy for innocent children and the rest of the neighborhood whose homes were destroyed! What happened to those people? Who replaced their homes and belongings? How could this be the only solution police and city officials came up with?

    3. We are ‘supposed’ to teach our own children about themselves and their Ancestors, who are Kings and Queens of Civilization. No need to how aliens teach their doctrine to them. Peace

    4. When government violates the human rights of innocent citizens, they will try their best to cover up their dirty deeds and rewrite history to make themselves appear innocent. That is why, as a people, we need to be involved with our local government to defeat evil and keep the politicians honest. Community oversight of the workings of local politics is vital and necessary to our environment, health and welfare.

  2. For those who claim that the 1985 Philadelphia MOVE fire was “hidden”, this only reinforces the notion that if one wants to hide things from black people, put it in a book. This very public occurrence was covered extensively at the time by world-wide media. It also covered the fact that the black middle class neighbors made 100’s of complaints against the MOVE members, who defecated and urinated in public, refused to bathe, threw their garbage on the lawn, and made many structural changes to the building, none with a required permit or by a licensed/bonded contractor. In short, the neighbors were sick and tired of these people dragging down the value of their properties, most of which were single family homes, not rentals. Wilson Goode made every effort to get these people to comply with local ordinances and they absolutely refused, leaving him with no choice but to evict them. Yes, innocent children died, but MOVE has to accept responsibility for that. When they decided to fight rather than accept eviction, they could have sent the children out rather than keep them as human shields (similar to what ISIS does today, by holing up in non-combatant areas). Don’t take my word for any of this; you can find it by looking at past issues of the Philadelphia Inquirer and other mainstream media.

      1. No, you don’t deserve to die for shitting in public, or for any other reason. Except that MOVE began the confrontation by shooting at the police, and if you shoot at them, they’re going to come at you with, well you know how they can be, ja?

        Make no mistake: everything ThirdNoah said about them was true. They also virulently hated white people and preached our destruction. They were hateful creatures.

        But none of that excuses what the authorities did, which was a slaughter.

    1. @Thirdnoah, the residents complained about the MOVE organization and wanted them out of the neighborhood but the mayor completely ignored their complaints and did nothing for months. They built the illegal structure on their house in front of police who did nothing as per the mayors instructions. If you watch the video connected to this article, many of the residents stated that the mayor acted like he didnt want to be bothered with them when the spoke with him about their problems with MOVE. But none of that is relevant to the fact that the police/government officials DROPPED A BOMB ON A HOUSE IN A RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOOD. THEN LET THE NEIGHBORHOOD BURN DOWN WHILE THE RESIDENTS WHO HAD BEEN ASKING FOR HELP FOR MONTHS WATCHED THEIR HOMES BURN. How can you blame MOVE for the actions of the police/government? MOVE didnt drop the bomb or fire 10,000 bullets.

      1. O well theubfired and werw disturbing the peace . And had fired on cops several times. Shit happens when you do shit like that

        1. This is not the first bombing by the US on its own people. 1921 they bombed and killed 3000 people in 72 hours in Tulsa, OK. Destroyed the first Black Wallstreet

    2. Nothing Move did or did not do justified their murder. Trash, urine, and human feces on the law has never been a capital crime and maybe not even a misdemeanor or infraction. It look around where you live and especially sports arenas and after hours clubs.

    3. not 1 thing u mentioned gives the government or anyone else reasons to bomb a neighborhood, but we r talking about America the Great ….yeah rite cause i haven’t experienced nothing great bout USA , its has taught n demonstrated nothing but pure Evil now we live in a Country with more Evil than anywhere in the world thanks Government and of course Caucasian people, u all taught Evil to the highest power …..

    4. I think when people say stuff is hidden they mean they weren’t taught about it in school I know I wasnt. This should be in the history books we get in HS and it’s not.

    5. So, MOVE members being a bunch of jackasses makes them responsible for police shooting people as they run from a burning building? That’s like saying I have the right to put a bullet in the head of someone who cuts me off in traffic because it’s a moving violation. I’m betting, judging from your approval of the “put it in a book” stereotype, that your twisted logic results from a bigoted world view.

    6. It simply started by redisting. When will you ppl get it. Stop redisting. A cop gonna slam anyone, white black, that’s redisting. For some reason , black ppl think they are above the law and don’t have to obey. Then they wonder why they getting slammed. Stop breaking the law and ull never see a cop. I will never ever be on the side of someone who broke the law being pursued by someone upholding it. U break the law, you’re gonna deal with a cop. U resisting, he gonna slam ur ass and ur not gonna win! Behave or expect to be brutalized. Sheesh….it’s not rocket science!

    7. Even if these people did do those things that you mentioned none of those actions rise to the justification of governmental bombing and indiscriminate killing of these people and their children as they tried to escape death….they deserved to die?…be executed?…. The kkk has persecuted thousands of black people including hanging many on a daily basis and people of all colors( including the president wife Eleanor Roosevelt ) have denounced and complained for centuries however never has there been any conscious effort to even nationally condemn them and they are still going strong….because these people were different nonconformist they and their children deserve to be bombed and shot like less than animals because they tried to escape?….your your racism is showing…. There is no excuse for this assassination as there was no excuse for America dropping bombs on Black Wall Street….this information is also in a book, perhaps you may want to educate yourself!

  3. Everyone forgets the the fire chief was Frank Rizzo’s brother and police chief was a Frank Rizzo’s guy. Both appointed by Mayor Goode. They paid no attention to Goode or Brooks When they ordered them to put out the fire.

  4. Okay. I just stumbled onto this page. After reading this article, I have come to a few conclusions. 1. The police did seem to act in a way that was an abuse of power. 2. There must have been a reason for the police to have been there and attacked that house so vigorously. I mean I live in an area where there are drugs and an occasional homicide by some random dude, but the cops aren’t bombing anything around here. 3. It is a foregone conclusion that West Philadelphia has become more urbanized and thus more violent. If an area gets too bad, maybe they’d rather nuke it then try to clean it up. For the life of me, I don’t understand why the urban culture has such a penchant for violence and including but not limited to black on black crime.

    1. Lol. ….if you took a little time to do some research you probably wouldn’t have to study long to find yourself incorrect. Authentic data shows crime rates in urban communities doesn’t vary much from suburban counterparts. But I will grant you that the urban ones do capture the most attention. I also noticed you touched on the topic of drugs which I would like to pose a question related to the topic. If unlawful drug sales is a multi -billion dollar a year industry but people of color only represent a small fraction of sthe country’s society needless to say an even smaller percentage of the financial wealth. …how is it that we are supporting/representing the largest portion of involvement in it. I invite to get more involved in the facts rather than hear say and possibly your opinion may change.

      1. best comment in the face of white supremacy. Thats my question when was arrested for high level drug trafficking, wheres my money if I am so high on this industries ladder, no the reality is it is uncle sam pumping this shit into our communities. How did the poor people in America learn to make crack? Who taught us how to make it?

  5. Meanwhile this white kid @ Stanford rapes a woman and gets 6 months, 3 with good behavior. The hypocrisy is really fuckin disgusting.

  6. White people got so much to pay for.look at all the evil they have done to black people.Then they expect us to forget the can we forget it??Look at what the police are doing to US?