Michael Moses Ward, one of two survivors of the 1985 bombing of the militant group MOVE in a Philadelphia neighborhood and the only child to make it out alive, has died at 41.
Ward died aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean, according to the Brevard County, Fla., medical examiner's office. His body was found in a hot tub Friday, and he appeared to have drowned, investigator Craig Engelson said Wednesday.
Ward was a 13-year-old boy known as Birdie Africa when Philadelphia police, trying to dislodge MOVE from its fortified urban compound, dropped explosives on the roof. The bombing killed five children and six adult members of the group and ignited a fire that destroyed 61 row homes.
Ward, who ran naked from the burning compound, was the only child to survive the bombing, and Ramona Africa, then 29 and known as the group's "minister of communications," the only adult. His mother, Rhonda Africa, was among those killed in the siege.
The incident left Ward with lifelong burn scars on his abdomen, arms and face.
He had no contact with MOVE from then on.
Ward was born Dec. 19, 1971. His original name was Olewolffe (Arabic for "prince") Ward, he said. He became Birdie Africa after his parents split up and his mother joined MOVE. After the disaster, he went to live with his father, Andino Ward, who changed his name to Michael Moses Ward.
In a 1995 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ward spoke of his life with MOVE, of being forced to live on a diet of raw vegetables and fruit while the adults ate hearty cooked meals, of being denied schooling and neighborhood playmates, of stealing toys and burying them in the compound.
"I'm still afraid of them, of MOVE," he said in 1995. "Some of the things that went on there I can't get out of my head, bad things."
But that was the life he had always known. His earliest memories, he said, were of growing up at a MOVE commune in Virginia.
He said that his mother tried to leave MOVE but that threats to her and him made that impossible. Instead, they lived in fear of everything: police, the neighborhood and MOVE founder John Africa.
"The only regret I have is about me being hurt and my mom dying and the other kids," he said. "I feel bad for the people who died, but I don't have any anger toward anybody. See, I got out."
Ward went on to recover from his injuries, play high school football and serve in the Army.
A 2005 profile in the Philadelphia Inquirer said he was a truck driver and divorced father of two living quietly in the Philadelphia suburbs.
In an interview with the newspaper, Ward reflected on the MOVE disaster.
"I think about it from time to time, but I don't dwell on it," he said.
His father said Wednesday that Ward had put the past behind him.
"He was great; he was doing well," Andino Ward said.
Ward's body was found on the last day of a family cruise. Officials in Florida are awaiting the results of a toxicology test before determining the cause and manner of death.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun