In death, Theresa Brooks Africa has left relatives and longtime friends puzzled. They say they never understood why she joined the radical MOVE group, wore her hair in dreadlocks or rejected the suburban life that could have been hers.
A child of a racially mixed marriage, the 26-year-old woman grew up in Moorestown, N.J., a predominantly white Philadelphia suburb. She was the last of five adults identified as victims of last week's police assault against MOVE's headquarters to join the organization.
"The way she got into it was by going to MOVE trials," said her aunt, Doris Hall, referring to proceedings after a 1978 shootout between Philadelphia police and MOVE members. "She wanted to study criminology. I still don't know if she ever knew what MOVE was all about."
The Rev. Dennis Norris, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Moorestown, said he tried twice to persuade her to leave the group. "As outsiders, we could never understand MOVE's nature," he said. "The one thing I learned was her conviction about it. Theresa was very firm in her belief . . . . "
Each adult MOVE member came to the organization by a different route and developed a deep loyalty to the group that perplexes friends and relatives.
No weekend radical group, the organization demanded total commitment. Members gave up their identities, families and life styles and took the surname Africa. Four of the identified adults joined more than a decade ago; two had served prison terms in connection with MOVE activities.
Authorities say seven adults and four children died in the assault May 13. The children, whose names have not been released, are thought to be related to MOVE members imprisoned after the 1978 shootout.
MOVE members followed the teachings of Vincent Leaphart, a former handyman with a third-grade education who later became John Africa. He set out MOVE's principles in "The Book," also called "The Guidelines," and has sent tape recordings to followers since he disappeared several years ago. At least three other MOVE houses are known to be in the Philadelphia area.
Back-to-nature believers who scorned technology, the MOVE members who died in the destroyed house on Osage Avenue lived in filth, refused to send their children to school, and spread garbage and human excrement in their yard because "what you take from life, you must must give back to life," former member Valerie Brown told Associated Press. They wore uncombed hair in long, stiff braids called dreadlocks.
They lived in a middle-class black neighborhood in west Philadelphia and used a loudspeaker to harangue neighbors with obscenities and threats.
When former MOVE member Louise James was asked, "What's your philosophy?" on Phil Donahue's television show this week, she replied: "Peace and harmony."
James owned the row house where the 11 MOVE members died. Among those killed was her son, Frank James Africa, 26.
For him, MOVE was almost a family affair. John Africa was his uncle, and Frank's mother, aunt and five cousins were group members.
Frank joined MOVE 10 years ago as a shy, pudgy teen-ager who had grown up in the well-furnished row house on Osage Avenue that was later fortified by MOVE, attended the private Larchmont Academy nearby and appeared in school plays.
"He always had a brilliant mind," former classmate Pamela Williams said. "He was one of the top students in our class."
"Frankie," as he was known in the neighborhood, became an assertive, angry young man in MOVE, eventually known as the group's "naturalist minister," which apparently entitled him to preach MOVE doctrine. He died in the house in which he was raised.
Conrad Hampton Africa, 36, the group's "minister of defense," met John Africa in 1972 and joined MOVE. Conrad grew up in a middle-class home where nearly everyone attended church on Sunday. He married his childhood sweetheart and went to work on the railroad, then as a school aide, to support a growing family.
"My mother thinks he was brainwashed. I don't," said Sandra Camacho, a cousin. "He wasn't a stupid individual. He was very charismatic. He didn't jump into that movement. It was something he really believed in. He gave up a wife and three children to go with MOVE."
Camacho remembers "Connie" as a style-conscious youngster who loved to dance and listen to Motown music. "I'd say he was the leader in that house," she said in an interview. "He was a calm individual. He's the kind who would take charge. He never lost control."
Conrad stayed in touch with his wife, Elussia, and three children after joining MOVE. " Elussia respected the decision he had made about his life," Camacho said. "She never harassed him. There was a time, of course, when she hoped he would return home."
Rhonda Ward Africa, 30, drifted toward MOVE after her marriage fell apart, and her former husband joined the Air Force, according to a reconstruction of MOVE members' lives by The Philadelphia Inquirer. She took her son, Birdie, now 13, with her. He and Ramona Africa, 29, MOVE's "minister of communications," are the only known survivors of the assault.
Rhonda was a bright, quiet student at Philadelphia's Germantown High School and won a scholarship to Rutgers University but got married instead. She began attending MOVE meetings in 1974.
After a policeman was shot to death in the 1978 incident at a different MOVE compound, she fled to Richmond, Va., to a MOVE house known as the "Seed of Wisdom." She was later convicted on charges of making terrorist threats and disorderly conduct.
Raymond Foster Africa, 49, a handyman who dreamed of becoming a jazz pianist, was the house's oldest resident and had grown up in a public-housing project. Two of his boyhood pals took vastly different paths, according to The Inquirer. One was Leaphart, who apparently recruited Raymond into MOVE. The other was comedian Bill Cosby.
Friends and relatives of Theresa Brooks Africa are confused about how she fit into MOVE. An identical twin, she was quieter and less outgoing than her sister, Veronica, with whom she attended the University of Dayton.
Their mother was white, their father black. The girls lived with their grandmother after third grade when their parents separated.
" Theresa was more sensitive than a lot of people," said a former teacher at Moorestown High School, where more than 90 percent of the students are white. "But I don't think anyone ever said, 'She's headed for trouble,' or 'Here's someone really searching.' "
Expressing the bewilderment of many, Theresa's aunt, Doris Hall, said: "I won't condemn the girl. MOVE was her life. You walk alone. You die alone."