Michael Moses Ward, 41, formerly known as Birdie Africa, one of the two survivors of the 1985 MOVE bombing, died Friday aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean, officials said.
Ward was found unconscious in a hot tub Friday morning aboard the Carnival Dream, said Craig Engelson, an investigator for the Brevard County Medical Examiner’s Office. Ward’s body was taken from the ship to Port Canaveral, Fla.
On the evening of May 13, 1985, after a daylong armed confrontation with MOVE members, police dropped a satchel of explosives onto the radical group’s fortified rowhouse of the radical group at 6221 Osage Ave. in West Philadelphia.
Ward, who ran naked from the burning MOVE compound, was the only child to survive the bombing, and Ramona Africa, the only adult. His mother, Rhonda Africa, was among those killed in the siege.
Ward’s father, Andino Ward, was quoted in Victor Fiorillo’s 2010 oral history of the bombing for PhillyMag. One of the participants, James Berghaier, said Birdie’s emergence from the flames was “like fantasy. Like he came out of fire. He was barefoot. Ramona tried to pick him up but lost her grip. He landed on his head … I scooped him up.” Andino Ward, meanwhile, lamented knowing his son during his childhood.
Andino R. Ward, father of Birdie Africa (now Michael Moses Ward), the sole child survivor of the 1985 fire: One day in the early ’70s, my wife Rhonda had a friend who was telling her about this group, MOVE. At this point, Rhonda and I were separated. Not long thereafter, I went to her mom’s house to pick up Mike. Her mom said they no longer lived there, she’s with MOVE. I went to the Powelton MOVE house, almost went to blows with John Africa. Then a guy came with a hatchet, so I got out of there. Later, Rhonda told me that her new family was MOVE, that John Africa was Mike’s father, that I could forget any involvement.
In the mid-’70s, I went to the Powelton house. I tried to initiate conversation, and somebody shot at me. I took off running. I wouldn’t see my son for another 10 years.
The Daily News later gave this account of Ward’s experience:
At 13, Birdie didn’t know how to use a toothbrush. He had never been to school. He couldn’t read or write or tell time.
1985: Ward’s inside account of the 12-hour siege was perhaps the most chilling testimony put before the MOVE Commission. He described the relentless police gunfire-“do-do-do-do-do-do”-and how the house shook when the bomb struck the rooftop, and how the adults urged the children to flee.
“They told us to go out, and we said we didn’t want to go, we wanted to be with them.”
They darted out, only to be driven back into the burning house by bullets, he testified.
“And then when the fire got real heavy and we smelled all that smoke and we couldn’t breathe, that is when we started yelling, ‘The kids [are] coming out.’ ”
It was his mom who saved his life when she pushed him into the alleyway, he told the commission.
The Inquirer profiled the now-adult Ward in 2005:
Wearing a gray sweater, baggy jeans, work boots and a gold-and-diamond Jesus Christ medallion on a gold chain, Ward sipped cappuccino at a coffee shop near his home last weekend and reflected on his life. He asked that the location of his residence and the names of his children not be disclosed, to protect the family’s privacy.
Ward, who will turn 34 next week, still bears burn scars on his abdomen, arms and face. But he acknowledged that he had long ago moved past the day – May 13 – when police dropped a satchel of explosives on the radical group’s fortified rowhouse headquarters. City officials allowed the resulting fire to burn, destroying 61 houses.
“I think about it from time to time,” he said, “but I don’t dwell on it.”