A preliminary examination of the bodies of 10 of the 11 persons known to have died in a police assault on the headquarters of the radical group MOVE found no evidence of "bullet fragments," suggesting fire was the cause of death, a city official said today.
"We have no evidence at this time that any of the victims were shot," Health Commissioner Stewart Shapiro said after medical examiners had X-rayed the bodies recovered from the ashes of a west Philadelphia row house. He said later examinations may find that shots passed through the bodies, but "there is no evidence of bullets as a cause of death at this time."
The finding was announced as Mayor W. Wilson Goode and city officials found themselves under increasing pressure to account for the tactics that led police to drop an explosive device on the row house occupied by MOVE, a heavily armed group that had vowed to fight police to the death.
Victims whose homes were burned Monday during a massive fire begun by the police assault filed lawsuits in federal and local courts seeking $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the city. The fire destroyed 53 homes, which Goode said today would cost more than $6 million to replace. Barring legal complications, the mayor said he hoped the two blocks that were destroyed could be rebuilt by Christmas with the help of private and federal funds.
Although Goode has said he will appoint an independent investigatory commission, the atmosphere of mistrust was underscored by the City Council's narrow defeat -- 9 to 8 -- of a resolution authorizing its own investigation.
City Council Majority Leader Joan Krajewski called for Goode's resignation, saying, "This city needs answers -- not the rhetoric and public-relations gimmicks of the last 16 months."
Democratic Councilman John Street, a black civic leader and the resolution's sponsor, predicted council could still authorize an investigation. Any commission appointed by the mayor, he said, "will view things in a light most favorable to the mayor."
"Why would you drop a bomb on a building known to have explosives in it and then not have a plan to put out a fire in case one started?" Street asked. "It smacks of negligence to me." Street said Goode should have been at the scene of the confrontation making decisions, rather than several miles away at City Hall. Goode has said the decision to drop the explosive device -- designed to destroy a fortified bunker on the row house's roof -- was made by the police commissioner.
Goode defended his actions again today. He said poll results and mail received by his office indicated that his support in the community was "very strong."
But Street, echoing criticism by residents and in the local media, said, "As long as there were children in the basement of the MOVE house nothing should have been done that had the remotest chance of causing harm to them."
The bodies of seven adults and four children have been recovered from the rubble of the MOVE row house on Osage Avenue. No additional bodies were found today in the remains of the highly fortified stronghold, which withstood a barrage of 7,000 to 10,000 bullets Monday.
At a new conference today announcing a lawsuit against the city filed in the common court of pleas, Howard Nichols Jr., a spokesman for the United Residents of 6200 Block of Osage, said, "There was no need for dropping that device on our community and allowing our community to burn."
Eight homeowners on the block, whose houses were among the 53 destroyed in the fire, asked for $10 million in punitive damages against the city. More plaintiffs are expected to join the suit, attorney Anthony D. Jackson said.
"The city administration over the past three years has procrastinated, vacillated and, in many cases, made statements that conflicted directly with the truth . . . ," Nichols said. The neighborhood group had been complaining to the city for more than three years, but officials had maintained that there was no legal basis to take action against MOVE.
A second suit, filed in federal court on behalf of Daniel Gaddie, who lived next door to the MOVE compound, named Goode, as well as the city's managing director Leo Brooks and Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor. It estimated fire damage at more than $10 million.