Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Cremation of police bombing victims spurs ouster


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 14, 2021
MOVE fallout, pro-Trump votes, security probe, 'anti-science,' legal advice, lunch money, and the hunt for Pennsylvania bigfoot. It's Friday. Hip hip.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley resigned Thursday after disclosing that he authorized the cremation of human remains from the city's deadly police bombing of a Black separatist group's rowhouse in 1985 instead of attempting to identify and return the remains to the family.

In a statement, Farley said, "I believe my decision was wrong and represented a terrible error in judgment," The Inquirer reports. Mayor Jim Kenney agreed.

Farley's resignation came 36 years to the day after the city-orchestrated bombing killed 11 inside a West Philadelphia home occupied by members of the MOVE group and Africa family. The dead included five children.

THE CONTEXT: The resignation follows sustained criticism of how the remains were treated by the city and local universities after the deaths. Some of them were given to the University of Pennsylvania for identification and shuttled between that institution and Princeton University over decades.

It was revealed last month that the remains were studied by anthropology and archaeology departments without the Africa family’s knowledge and with little deference or care for the chain of custody.

Mayor Kenney said the incident involving Farley wasn't directly related. But city officials admit they don't know how many MOVE victims' remains were in the city's possession when Farley authorized their disposal. 

An investigation is underway, with city Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Gulino on administrative leave pending the results.

Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the director of the Health Department’s Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention, is acting health commissioner in Farley's absence.

"I offer a formal apology to the Africa family and members of the Movement on behalf of the City of Philadelphia," Mayor Kenney wrote on Twitter, "not just for this disgraceful incident, but also for how administration after administration has failed to atone for the heinous act."


reader, if you're reading this, it's probably because PA Post has become an indispensable part of your morning. And over the past two weeks, you've heard from us a lot (I know, I know) about the importance of our spring fundraising campaign to enable us to keep up this essential journalism.

I live in Pennsylvania, work in Pennsylvania, and am raising a family in Pennsylvania. I care deeply about making our state and our local communities as strong as possible. And that simply isn't possible without the independent, non-partisan, "just-the-facts" journalism Spotlight PA provides.

We're writing stories that would otherwise go untold, and holding elected officials, lobbyists, and other powerful special interests accountable like no one else. Journalism isn't a business or a source of profit, it's a public trust, which is why we make all of our work available at no cost throughout the state.

But this entire endeavor depends on your support. Together, we can keep this essential public service going if you make a contribution now.

During the past few days, 577 of your friends and neighbors have supported the essential accountability reporting that Spotlight PA produces. With just 12 hours left in our campaign, now is the time to do your part.

If you're a fan of PA Post, will you pay it forward and support Spotlight PA's vital journalism today? Contribute any amount now »»

— Christopher Baxter, editor in chief

» THANK YOU to the 39 people who contributed to our spring membership drive Thursday.

"It's a grave concern, especially the message it sends to the people who have been victims of his crimes."

—Lori Sywensky, of Turning Point of Lehigh Valley, on a candidate for constable in Northampton County who has a history of domestic violence and who says he won't enforce protection from abuse orders if elected

VACCINE UPDATE: People fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may stop wearing masks or maintaining social distance in most indoor and outdoor settings, the CDC says. Masks are still required in health-care settings, at businesses that mandate them, or on public transportation. The CDC's updated guidance is in effect in Pennsylvania. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» BE PREPARED: Everyone — regardless of political affiliation — can vote May 18 on four ballot questions. Here's a breakdown of each one. Plus, WHYY has a great primer on the appellate court judge candidates. We'll have more resources in the days and weeks ahead.
Thanks, Suzanne F., for this beautiful cloudy shot of the New Hope Bridge. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
PUSHED OUT: Pennsylvania U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly (R., Butler) and Guy Reschenthaler (R., Washington) voted to oust Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from House leadership this week over her repudiation of former President Donald Trump, per WESA. "The job of Conference Chair is to represent our entire conference, which she has consistently failed to do," said Kelly, an ardent backer of Trump's unproven election fraud claims.

SECURITY LAPSE: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is looking into a COVID-19 contact tracing data breach that compromised the private information of some 72,000 people. Gov. Tom Wolf said the state won't renew its contract with Insight Global when that contract expires in July, KDKA-TV reports. Some lawmakers want the ties cut now. The state has paid Insight Global about $28.7 million since March 2020.

HEALTH RISK: Pennsylvania pediatricians say a bill backed by Republican state lawmakers could put newborns and sick children at risk by letting parents set their immunization schedules. Pediatricians told WITF the "Immunization Freedom Act," which passed a House committee last week in a party-line vote, is based on misinformation and could give rise to anti-science ideas that impact their exam rooms.

BENCH BALLOTS: Judicial races are on the ballot in Pennsylvania this primary, and while traditionally overlooked, they're incredibly important. The Appeal explains why with an in-depth look at the legal landscape in Pennsylvania and the influence local judges wield, saying voters have the power to "shape the court's impact" at the ballot box on Tuesday.

LUNCH MONEY: About one million Pennsylvania public school students will begin receiving a combined $1 billion in cash assistance this week to make up for the added costs families bore without access to school meals during the pandemic, WHYY reports. Eligible students attended virtual school in 2020-21 and receive free or reduced school lunch.

HOT SHOTS: Ohio is giving one million dollars to five adults and full-ride scholarships to five teens in exchange for getting vaccinated. Meanwhile, New York City is offering free french fries, New Jersey is offering free beer, and Pennsylvania is offering <checks notes> that priceless do-good feeling. 

JUNETEENTH: This year's Juneteenth celebration in Pittsburgh will be in person again. It will also be the first since the city and Allegheny County made the commemoration of slavery's end an official holiday, WESA reports. Gov. Tom Wolf made Juneteenth a statewide holiday in 2019. 

'SQUATCH SEEKERS: Bigfoot believers, non-believers, and agnostics will meet up in Marienville next month for the Forest County Bigfoot Festival, Erie Times-News reports. Why Marienville? Because organizers say the half-million acres of national forest next door is prime Bigfoot Country.

BEAR SZN: Bigfoot may not be real, but black bears definitely are, and they're on the move in Pennsylvania (see?). With that in mind, Patch has some safety tips in case you ever find yourself face to face with one

PICTURE PERFECT: Mentally, I'm at The Fishing Creek Nature Preserve in Lancaster County, thanks to this dreamy, prehistoric-looking Reddit pic. Enjoy your weekend. 

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Acrobatics

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Neal W., Craig W., Irene R., Susan D., Dixie S., Becky C., Meg M., Don G., Bill C., Bob R., Vince C., Elaine C., Patricia M., Myles M., Christine M., Al M., Don H., James B., David I., Lex M., Diane P., Dianne K., David W., Dennis M., Carol D., Heidi B., Mary Kay M., Elizabeth W., George S., Patricia R., George W., Kim C., and Helen G.


Like PA Post? Share it with a friend.

Love PA Post? Chip in to support local journalism.

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
225 Market St., Suite 502A
Harrisburg, PA 17101

You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Post, which has combined with Spotlight PA to create Pennsylvania's largest statewide newsroom dedicated to accountability journalism.

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.