Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Latest News in The Investigation Into the Murder of John Gilbride

BY JASON NARK, Daily News Staff Writer Posted: September 29, 2014 THE BOY grew up to become an image of his dead father, their smiles so wide and similar. A living ghost that haunts Jack Gilbride. Gilbride, 75, is connected to and divided from both of them by blood. His son, John Gilbride, was mired in a chaotic custody battle with his ex-wife, the former Alberta Africa of the MOVE organization, when he was slain by an unknown assassin in South Jersey 12 years ago today. Gilbride hasn't seen his grandson Zack, the object of that custody battle, since 2004. That's when the supervised visits at Africa's house in Cherry Hill became too painful and frustrating. He sees Zack's familiar face only on the Internet today, in pictures, but he hoped that the itch of adolescence or even glances in the mirror would have planted questions in the boy's head as he grew into a man. "They could be brothers. They could be twins," Gilbride said of his son and grandson this week from his home in Herndon, Va. Gilbride wrote a 271-page book about his son called "A Father's Sacrifice: Unconditional Love," in 2012, hoping that somehow Zack would get a chance to read it. "I really wrote it just for him," he said. The Daily News reached out via social media to Zack, who no longer uses the Gilbride name, shortly after his 18th birthday in May, to see if he'd like to talk about his father. He declined. In the weeks and months that led up to John Gilbride's slaying, MOVE was preparing for a confrontation over Zack, boarding up their windows in West Philly and holding marches and demonstrations on both sides of the river. Tony Allen, a former MOVE member who's become a vocal critic of the group, said he used to "stalk" Gilbride for the organization during the custody battle. "This was an ongoing crusade and it was all of the resources of the organization, all directed at discrediting John," Allen said recently. "At any given time they knew where he was." On the night of Sept 27, 2002, at about 11:30 p.m., the custody battle ended when a gunman approached John Gilbride as he sat inside his 1985 Ford Crown Victoria LTD outside his apartment in Maple Shade. Multiple shots were fired through the driver's-side window, striking Gilbride in the head and chest. John Gilbride, a baggage supervisor for US Airways, was scheduled to have his first unsupervised visit with Zack, then 6, the next morning. MOVE had vowed to never let that happen. A spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office said recently, "There are no new developments in that investigation." In past interviews, a Philadelphia police liaison to MOVE suggested that Gilbride could have been killed over gambling debts and told the Daily News he doubted that MOVE was involved. Gilbride and Allen have long wondered whether investigators were reluctant to take a hard look at MOVE, always mindful of the 1985 confrontation that led to the bombing of the MOVE house on Osage Avenue, which killed 11 MOVE members and burned most of the neighborhood, permanently scarring the city. Gilbride said there was a clear motive, but "still, I can't accuse her [Alberta] of something I can't prove." Alberta Africa, now Alberta Wonderlin, was visibly distraught in the days after Gilbride's 2002 slaying. She and MOVE members sometimes said he was killed by the government and often questioned whether he was dead at all. After the slaying, Jack Gilbride said that he and his wife had several visits with Zack at the home in Cherry Hill and that they were always difficult. There were often MOVE members in the house watching them, he said. Zack mostly ignored the Gilbrides and played with a friend he remains close with today. When Gilbride's wife died of multiple myeloma in 2004, he went to visit Zack a few more times alone, but finally had enough. He thinks his last visit was around December of that year. "I stood up, around 3 p.m., and said, 'I am leaving.' I said, 'This is ridiculous.' " In the decade that's passed, Gilbride and his daughters tried to call a few times, unsuccessfully. They'd heard that Zack was into fencing and swimming and piano. Today, seen through posts he's made on social-media sites that Zack is living every young man's dream: snowboarding, playing piano and going to electronic dance and hip-hop shows, surrounded by friends, drinks, high fashion and finely tuned lattes. According to his Instagram page, he's made frequent trips to Amsterdam, Spain and Poland in recent years. The pictures are bittersweet to Gilbride. Zack appears to be intelligent and talented, he said, someone he could see "being comfortable at a cocktail party," but they remind him of everything they've missed together - the weddings, birthdays and funerals, including his grandmother's. Gilbride also thinks there could be tactical reason for Zack's travels, based on old conversations he had with his son. Gilbride said John told him once that when he and Alberta were out walking one night in Paris that "she laid out her plans for Zack's future. He'd be educated, and trained and feel comfortable socializing with the rich in Europe and be able to [raise] money for the MOVE organization." Zack has also posted pictures of himself in West Philadelphia, where MOVE relocated to 45th Street and Kingsessing Avenues after the 1985 bombing, but none of his posts appear to any have political or religious messages. When the Daily News reached out to the MOVE organization to discuss how Zack was doing, a woman simply said "fine." When asked to discuss the anniversary of the John Gilbride slaying, MOVE referred comments to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office. "We don't know what happened to him," the organization responded in an email. When the Daily News sent a text message recently to a cellphone number affiliated with Alberta Wonderlin and her husband, Gary, there was a confusing reply that appeared to come from Zack himself. "I was only a child when that stuff happened with John," the message said. "It's because of people like you and this government that I don't have my father right now." Gilbride doesn't believe that Zack sent the message. At least, he doesn't want to believe it. "I think I'm right, but I could be wrong," Gilbride said. "If it is him, and he's that well indoctrinated that he doesn't even believe his father was murdered, there's not much I can do." As he gets older and the prospect of an arrest seems no closer than it did 12 years ago, Gilbride said he simply wants his grandson to know that his father loved him and fought for him. If Zack reads the book to the end, he would find a handwritten note on the last page, just 40 words long. Jack Gilbride found the note in his son's belongings after he died, a letter from a worried father to a son too young to read it. "Please Zack as you get older don't forget that I died fighting to stop your mother from taking you away from me forever," John Gilbride wrote. "No matter where you are, I am with you and I love you more than anything Zack

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Death of "Birdy Africa"

(from Philly.com) Michael Moses Ward, 41, who was known as Birdie Africa when he survived the 1985 MOVE bombing, died Friday, Sept. 20, aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean, officials said. Mr. Ward was found unconscious in a hot tub on the Carnival Dream, said Craig Engelson, an investigator for the Brevard County (Fla.) Medical Examiner's Office. The death appeared to be an accidental drowning, he said, but a toxicology screening will take about six weeks. Mr. Ward's father, Andino, said Wednesday that he and his son were vacationing with relatives. "It was a family cruise," Ward said. "It was my 30th wedding anniversary and his sister's 10th anniversary, and her in-laws' 50th anniversary. So all of the kids treated us to an anniversary cruise." More coverage 'Birdie Africa' dies in cruise ship hot tub From the archives: The miracle of Birdie Africa Special section: 25th anniversary of MOVE bombing He said the ship had made stops in Mexico, Belize, and the Dominican Republic. Ward said his son had been living in the Pennsylvania suburbs. He declined to name the town or describe his son's most recent occupation. The funeral will be private, he said, making it clear that the family remains reticent because of the events of May 13, 1985 - as were others who directly or indirectly touched by the tragedy. On that evening, after a daylong armed confrontation with MOVE members, police dropped a satchel containing a bomb made of the plastic military explosive C-4 and the commercial product Tovex TR-2 on the radical group's fortified rowhouse in West Philadelphia. The explosion sparked a blaze that city officials allowed to burn. When the fire was out, 61 homes were destroyed and 11 people, including five children were dead. Mr. Ward was the only child to survive the bombing, and Ramona Africa the only adult. His mother, Rhonda Africa, was among those killed. Ramona Africa said she was saddened to learn of his death. "We are just so sorry to hear about that," she said. "The only thing I can say is that if he was still with MOVE and hadn't been snatched from MOVE, he would not have drowned on no cruise ship. We don't go on cruise ships. It just shows you how protective MOVE's belief is. John Africa taught us that it is dangerous to be out in a body of water like that." Retired Police Officer James Berghaier, who helped rescue the boy, told CBS3 that the news of Mr. Ward's death was very upsetting to him. "He has been through a lot. It's a shame and he is at peace now," Berghaier said. The image of an undersized, nearly naked, severely burned 13-year-old Birdie Africa being carried to safety as the MOVE home and the rest of the Osage Avenue block burned has remained an iconic image for nearly 30 years. The calamitous event left the teen with lifelong scars on his abdomen, arms and face, and Philadelphia with the ignominious reputation as the city that had bombed its own people. Mr. Ward had no contact with MOVE from then on. He was born on Dec. 19, 1971, to Rhonda Cheryl Harris and Andino Ward, who had been together since they were teens and had recently married in a Baptist ceremony in Nicetown. The couple, who shared a passion for civil rights, named him Olewolffe (Arabic for "prince") Momer Puim Ward. He became Birdie Africa two years later, after his parents had separated and his mother had joined MOVE, taken on a new surname, and moved into the compound at 6221 Osage. It was only after the disaster, when he went to live with his father, that he became Michael Moses Ward. In a 1995 interview with The Inquirer, Mr. 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 MOVE compound. "I'm still afraid of them, of MOVE," he said. "Some of the things that went on there I can't get out of my head, bad things, things I haven't told anybody except my father. "But I'll tell you this: I didn't like being there. They said it was a family, but a family isn't something where you are forced to stay when you don't want to. And none of us wanted to stay, none of the kids. We were always planning ways to run away, but we were too little. We didn't know how to get away. And we were scared." 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 his mother tried to leave MOVE, but threats to her and him made that impossible. Instead, they lived in fear of everything: police, the neighborhood, MOVE founder John Africa, and anything else that came their way. "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." In a 2005 interview with The Inquirer, Mr. Ward's views on the MOVE disaster were little changed. "I think about it from time to time, but I don't dwell on it," he said. After the disaster, Mr. Ward was reunited with his father, and the long process of bringing him back to health began. In the end, he came a long way, especially considering that it took years of rehabilitation to patch up the second- and third-degree burns that covered 20 percent of his body. And, considering that while he was 13 when he emerged from the burning rowhouse, he carried less than 100 pounds on his 4-feet-7-inch frame. And, considering that under the direction of John Africa, Birdie and the other children never went to school, were usually naked - even in winter - until they were about 6 or so, and spurned many of the conventions of modern living - things such as toothbrushes, toys, cooked foods. Even the group's name was part of their rebellion. MOVE is not an acronym; it stands for nothing. Mr. Ward lived with his father in Lansdale from 1986 to 1992. He played fullback and cornerback for the North Penn High School football team. In 1991, Mr. Ward and his father reached a settlement with the administration of Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., which paid them $840,000 up front, with each receiving $1,000 per month for life. Even so, it took him years to reintegrate into normal society. Mr. Ward had never spent a day in school and had never played with children from outside the compound. He went from a nearly stone-age existence to living with his father, his father's new wife, Amal, and two stepsisters, Sophia and Tatiana, in Montgomery County. He was initially enrolled in special-education classes and it was a long climb before graduation from North Penn. Mr. Ward served in the Army from 1997 to 2001. He was stationed in Florida, North Carolina, and Germany, earning the rank of sergeant. He served as an Army cameraman and videographer, making military training videos. He later became a long-distance trucker, driving an 18-wheeler along the Northeast Corridor from Maine to Virginia. He also worked as a barber in his spare time, cutting friends' hair. He said he earned his barber's license after high school. He married and had a daughter and a son before divorcing in 2005. Mr. Ward, who described himself as a Christian who eschewed organized religion, said that despite his successes, his life had been difficult. "The thing that helps me is I have a drive to better myself," he said. When asked in 2005 what he saw himself doing in 10 years, he saw better times. "Hopefully, I will be retired. I want to own my own business and watch my kids grow up," he said. "I want to retire when I'm 45." Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20130926_Michael_Ward___Birdie_Africa___dies_in_hot_tub_on_cruise_ship_at_age_41.html#WIdI9V5U056i6xlP.99

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

(Posted on behalf of Jack Gilbride, an excerpt from his book "A Fathers Sacrifice") Dear: Zack: Your father wanted to offer you the opportunity for you to be your own man someday and to decide for yourself the type of life that you would someday live. Your father and I had many discussions in which he told me how much he wanted to be with you but could not because your mother refused for you and your father to be alone together. Your father realized that if you were to be together with him, your mothers plans for your future would be threatened because you would see other views of the world that she did not approve of — views that most normal people are exposed to as children. I remember the last time you and I were together. We were talking together in the family room of your home in Cherry Hill, sitting in a chair across from each other. I reminded you that you, your father and I all have the same blood — that we are in the same true family. I explained to you that you have a large family outside of this home that want to meet you someday. However, your mother has disallowed it because you might decide for yourself to pursue a life differently from the one she wants for you. During the past couple of years, I have had the time to review the short life you had with your father. What your father wanted for you, your mother, and for himself was a life separate from MOVE, which is why he moved your family to Cherry Hill. Unfortunately, that was impossible. Your father had the courage to do things, which someday I hope you will eventually have the same courage to do. No matter what I have written here, you will never completely understand what your father went through because of his love for you. You are a miracle child, and that is not a term I use lightly. The reason I have written this book is that I do not want you to ever doubt that your father loved you. I have two goals for this book. One is for you to know that your father loved you. Second, my goal is to explain what he did for you, considering the suffering he went through because he would never let go of you. Thus, MOVE attacked him, his family, and his place of work. As for you, please seek the truth when you are old enough to do so. Love, Grandpa, John Gilbride

This sign was posted outside the New Jersey office of the Philadelphia Inquirer. I think it is quite emblematic of what MOVE is now and always has been

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More on John Gilbride Murder

(From Philly.com) by Monica Yant Kinney Last of two parts. All unsolved murders are inherently mysterious, but that of John Gilbride remains extra-curious, since he was shot dead hours before a court-ordered visit with the son his ex-wife, MOVE matriarch Alberta Africa, vowed not to let him see. Most custody battles never make headlines. MOVE, the West Philadelphia cult famous for two deadly confrontations with police, spent the weeks before John was killed fortifying its headquarters and lambasting him as a bad dad. John was 34 when he was gunned down inside his Crown Vic in the parking lot of a Maple Shade apartment complex called Ryan's Run. The killer fired an automatic weapon through the window. Bullets ravaged his head and chest. Sept. 27 marks the 10-year anniversary of John's violent demise. Investigators have never named a suspect or released ballistics information. In 2003, Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi told me MOVE members were interviewed but offered no helpful information. "There is still this problem with the timing of this homicide given what was pending in the custody dispute," Bernardi said back then. "Is that a coincidence, or is there something more to it?" I tried for months to get another sit-down with Bernardi and sought the reflections of investigators who have pulled thread anonymously for a decade. He declined all requests and just released a bland written statement: "Somebody out there has knowledge of what transpired the night John Gilbride was slain. I implore that person to come forward and assist us in bringing his killer to justice." A father's risk In 1992, John married Alberta, an ex-con 20 years older. In 1996, the 48-year-old gave birth to Zack. In 1998, John fled MOVE and his marriage, aware of the risk. "I was told," he said in 1999 divorce papers, "my attitude toward my wife was going to cause a situation that would involve my death." On Aug. 27, 2002, a domestic dispute between John and Alberta at her home led to John's summoning the Cherry Hill police. On Sept. 9, 2002, the exes aired grievances in Camden County Family Court. "John was not pushin' because he wanted Zack," Alberta testified. "He was pushin' because he knew that MOVE belief would not allow me to give him Zack." Her ex-husband, Alberta contended, intended to "drive me and Zackary into a situation where we're confronted with cops and court orders and warrants. And he knows because of 1985, May 13 in 1985, he knows what a situation like that could cause." (For the uninitiated, she was referencing the armed standoff that led officials to bomb MOVE's West Philadelphia base, killing 11 members and destroying 60 homes.) John, meanwhile, told the Family Court judge that during the August quarrel, a MOVE supporter named Mario Hardy stepped in to defend Alberta and issued a fresh threat: "Move and I'll kill you." A week later, on Sept. 17, 2002, MOVE posted a statement citing "dangerous developments" and urged supporters to do anything "in their power to do to avert this government assault." Ten days later, John was dead. Leads or conspiracy theories? Afterward, MOVE questioned whether John was killed by the government - if he was even dead. A Philadelphia police liaison to MOVE speculated that John, who traveled and frequented casinos, was slain over a gambling debt. Another curiosity concerned John's secret, and brief, second marriage to Rosario Bienvenida Arias, a 24-year-old casino dealer from the Dominican Republic. They wed in Maryland on April 25, 2002, but, according to the annulment John initiated May 19, she used him and then fled the country. The marriage had not been nullified by the time John died, so as his widow, Arias - not Zack - collected death benefits. Mario Hardy long ago declined to comment on John's charge. MOVE sent an e-mail last week calling my interview request a "new assault." John's father, Jack Gilbride, says investigators told him they ruled out a mob hit and cleared the mystery wife, but Bernardi will neither confirm nor deny that information. Ten years of silence In 2009, America's Most Wanted filmed interviews about John's murder. The episode never aired. In 2010, Burlington County investigators sought the expertise of the Vidocq Society, acclaimed sleuths known for thawing cold cases. John's family was barred from watching the presentation, and the county forbade Vidocq members from sharing their theories with me. Law enforcement sources elsewhere puzzle over Bernardi's refusal to engage or publicize the investigation. That silence, they say, is a missed opportunity. This summer, investigators sought to interview a former MOVE supporter who could be a source of information, but the man skipped the scheduled appointment. Jack Gilbride perked up at the thought of investigators pursuing new leads, but he remains concerned that hesitation or missteps a decade ago allowed a killer to roam free. "The first 48 hours are the most important," so why, he asks, did it take detectives "seven weeks to talk to Alberta Africa?" Gilbride thinks back to his son's warnings. "I believe," he concludes, "that this investigation has been extremely and negatively impacted by MOVE's intimidation."

Monday, September 17, 2012

MOVE Asked For An Interview..Responds with letter aimed to intimidate

(The following was posted online by Monica Yant Kinney. It is apparently a response to her request for an interview. I think it does a fine job of highlighting the fact that MOVE wishes to intimidate people into not daring to ask any questions about John Gilbride, his murder, and what is being done to the child that he had with cult leader, Alberta Africa) In the interest of transparency, I am posting the entire 790-word email I received Friday night from a sender purporting to be from the MOVE organization. The email arrived a week after I left a letter for MOVE matriarch Alberta Africa asking to speak with her and her teenage son, Zack, about the 10-year anniversary of the murder of his father, Africa's ex-husband, John Gilbride. The first of two columns on the case Sunday. (Please note: This email is reprinted exactly as received, complete with typographical and grammatical errors.) The Move Organization got your letter. How much is the gov. and the Gilbrides paying you for this new assault on Alberta Africa and her child? You think weʼre stupid,we know what youʼre trying to do. You think she raised her child to be alienated from his father and his fatherʼs family, but youʼre wrong; which is no surprise, you been, and still are wrong about a lot of things when it comes to Alberta Africa. You donʼt think itʼs people like you, the courts and the Gilbrides whoʼs to blame for anything wrong that would cause alienation in her child, do you? Thatʼs your typical racist, bigoted, superior attitude, and you are a racist. You want to assume the worse when it comes to Alberta as a mother just because sheʼs black. You ainʼt got no sense of fairness or equality: if it ainʼt white, it ainʼt right. Right Monica? All yʼall been waiting for Albertaʼs son to grow up, so, as you see it, heʼd be able to speak for himself, as you claim; but we know better. We know it would be you doing the dictating to him, pushing him to do things your way that ainʼt got nothing to do with his interests (just like yʼall did to his father). You want to be able to control him, lure him away from Move and misuse him for your own designs. Thatʼs why you wrote that letter to Alberta, you trying to set the stage for your dirty work and you so full of yourself you think you can get past Move, think we wonʼt see through your lies and deceit. You think you gonna get your hands on this young boy and trick his mind up, convince him to leave his mother, his home and follow your influence. Who the hell do you think you are? Why is it so important to you anyway for Albertaʼs son, not your son, Albertaʼs son to know about his father. What do you know about Albertaʼs son, his life, how heʼs being raised. What makes you think he donʼt know about his father, and why the hell are you hallucinating that he needs you, of all people, to tell him about his father. What credentials do you have: did you know John Gilbride personally? Was he your husband, is his son your son, did you live in his sonʼs home while the child was growing up.....No you didnʼt. In fact, you donʼt know anything at all because you donʼt know John, Alberta or their son, and thatʼs the truth! Youʼre just proving our point that you got a sneaky, underhanded agenda here, and it ainʼt got nothing to do with this childʼs interests. This whole thing is just another approach, mimicking the custody case of 1998. All these years, and here you are in 2012 still trying to mess with this childʼs life; like you didnʼt mess with him enough when he was a baby, in 1998. You ainʼt gonna get away with it though, nothings changed, you didnʼt get away with it then and you wonʼt get away with it now. You like a damn terminator, a monster....but understand this: Move donʼt never back down or give up. We always on guard to keep our family protected. If this situation with you people trying to take this child away from his family wasnʼt so serious, that nonsense you wrote Alberta would be ludicrous! You donʼt know nothing about how this child was raised and you donʼt know nothing about how he feels about his father; and further more, it ainʼt none of your damn business how he feels about his father. You need to be more concerned about how your child feels about you. You need to get a life. You donʼt care nothing about Albertaʼs child and you know it. You donʼt even care about your own child; if you did youʼd be occupied with your child and not preoccupied with meddling in Albert Africaʼs childʼs life. For real, you just trying to do a job you been paid to do, but you need to back off and crawl back in that hole you slithered out of. Youʼre a pathetic person. You ainʼt no real woman; a real woman would never try to hurt a child, under no circumstances, but you!? You ainʼt got no compunction. Despite all your so call credentials and your superficial posturing as a so call decent, respectable woman and mother, you ainʼt really nothing but a loser Monica. Itʼs sad but itʼs your problem and Move didnʼt cause it, so stop spitting it on us. Ona Move The Move Organization “The power of truth is final Long Live John Africa” -- Monica Yant Kinney

Zack Gilbride Lost In MOVE?

(From Philly.com) Jack Gilbride's memoir, A Father's Sacrifice, is written for an audience of one: his grandson, Zack, the only child of John Gilbride, who was murdered in 2002 during a bitter custody fight. The manuscript contains 109,971 words aimed at a 16-year-old living in Cherry Hill. "My sole purpose," the author says, "is for Zack to read this and have some understanding of what his father did for him." John Gilbride developed an unlikely fascination with MOVE, the West Philadelphia cult whose two violent standoffs with city officials resulted in the death of 11 MOVE members and one cop. He met Alberta Africa, 20 years his senior, while she served a seven-year prison term on riot charges. In 1992, John married the MOVE matriarch. The book chronicles John's tortured decision six years later to leave MOVE, his wife, and 2-year-old son, John Zackary, called Zack. John, Gilbride writes, was "subjected to the mental cruelty meted out by MOVE" and was "nearly paralyzed by an overwhelming sense of guilt and fear" as he broke free. "Every part of his being demanded he ignore his lawyer's advice and take his son and just disappear." But he didn't. A week ago, I knocked on Alberta's door hoping to interview her and Zack about the 10th anniversary of John's unsolved murder. A Volvo sat in the driveway, but no one answered. So I left a letter. Friday, "South Jersey Friends of MOVE" distributed statements accusing me and The Inquirer of "harassing" the group about the "supposed murder." An e-mail claiming to be from the MOVE organization arrived late Friday, accusing me and Gilbride of waiting for Zack to grow up to "lure him away ... and misuse him for your own designs." I've talked with Jack Gilbride regularly since his son was found shot to death in a Maple Shade parking lot on Sept. 27, 2002. There have been no arrests and no named suspects. I'll explore the case in depth Wednesday. After John's death, his parents drove frequently from Virginia to see Zack at Alberta's home in South Jersey. MOVE members were always present. They hovered and horned in on games, letting the 6-year-old win at Monopoly. "They lose to him on purpose [because] he's special," Gilbride told me at the time. "They're setting him up to be their leader." In a break from the group's separatist, antisocial ethos, this MOVE child took karate and tap dancing. He fenced and swam competitively. Before John was killed, Alberta and Zack talked to a reporter about his show-business ambition after winning a modeling contest. "I wanted to explore different avenues of opportunities that could possibly lead to a career later in his life," Alberta was quoted as saying. "My goal for him is to have a good life. I want him to be a gentleman." A royal birth In the book, Gilbride quotes John calling Zack's 1996 birth "the happiest day of my life." In the hospital, Alberta made an odd statement: "I have some Indian blood . . . that's probably why he looks so white." John's family learned Zack was conceived, contrary to MOVE's antitechnology belief, via in-vitro fertilization and an egg from a white donor. Alberta, Gilbride writes, wanted Zack "to look a certain way, talk a certain way." From day one, she "mapped out the child's future." The baby, Gilbride notes, was treated "like royalty." Peace, then dissent John and Alberta entertained his parents at dinners of leg of lamb and filet mignon at MOVE's Kingsessing headquarters. But in 1997, Alberta fled to Paris with Zack, citing threats from people who'd had a falling-out with MOVE. She stayed six months. John, who flew free thanks to his job at US Airways, visited 17 times. "Looking back, it was probably Alberta's foremost mistake," Gilbride writes. Without MOVE's "constant supervision," John's "critical thinking process resurfaced." John and Alberta bought the Cherry Hill home in 1998, a step John hoped would distance his family from MOVE. To his dismay, MOVE members descended. In a climactic scene, John returned from work late at night to find a group on his bed watching a movie. He asked them to leave, but they refused and Alberta did not intervene, so he raised his voice. "John crossed a line," Gilbride recalls. Challenging MOVE and yelling at Alberta was "unthinkable." The slight led to epic MOVE "meetings" at which John was berated and humiliated. John, Gilbride writes, "became totally convinced that Alberta would never choose him over MOVE." Reaching out from afar In a 2009 Philadelphia Daily News interview, Alberta called Zack a "happy" homeschooler active in swimming and fencing. He now goes by a different last name. His role in MOVE, if any, remains unknown. "He has a life," Alberta told that reporter. "I don't keep him locked up in here." Gilbride has not seen Zack since 2004, when he was grieving the loss of his wife. At their last visit, he reminded Zack: "You, your father, and I all have the same blood." They spoke periodically until 2010, Gilbride says, when, suddenly, MOVE "stopped putting him on the phone." He worries about Zack growing up with no knowledge of his extended family. Gilbride hopes A Father's Sacrifice lands in Zack's hands so the teenager can learn about the man who gave him life and a name before losing a bruising battle to raise him to think independently. "The more MOVE attacked John," Gilbride concludes, "the more he realized what they would do to Zack if he ever got out of line or wanted to do something different with his life." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Coming Wednesday: Part two on the unsolved murder of John Gilbride. Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670 , myant@phillynews.com or @myantkinney on Twitter.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Nine Years After John's Murder

In America justice has evolved from a concept to be held aloft as an ideal enforced by the divine to a kind of mechanism to enforce laws and punish the guilty while protecting the innocent. It is by no means a complete or by a perfect evolution. It is a bureaucratic institution that is as prone to flaws and prejudices as are the people who grind the gears and make it happen. It bears the scars and fallibilities of all of us. A flawed monument to our collective desire for order, it is as has been pointed out before not the best there is, but is rather the best we have right now.

True to its mechanical nature it is in constant need of upkeep and oversight, but most of all what it needs is a kind of indignation of and revulsion towards violence, hatred, murder, and all of the things that create pain and disharmony in society.

But what happens when people stop caring? What happens when those who have been charged with task to protect and serve fail to do just that?

I can tell you. You have a case like that of John Gilbride. Of course, John Gilbride is not a “case”. He is or rather he was a man. The story of what happened to him has been exhaustively told on this blog and in other places. There is no point in my retelling the story again here. If you care to know you will find out what happened you will read this blog and do your own research. I encourage you to do it.

For me, what happened to John is not now so much a cautionary tale of what can happen to you when you involve yourself and your children in an authoritarian enterprise, but is instead something only slightly more tragic. It is a tale of what happens when people stop caring or more likely never cared in the first place.

When I heard the news on September 28th that John Gilbride had been murdered the night before there were two thoughts that screamed out loudly to me. The first of which was that MOVE was responsible. My friends and the people I cared about had murdered another human being. This terrible truth reverberated through my body left me momentarily stunned. The next thought was equally troubling to me. I knew that the police would be coming. I could see it now just as vividly as I could now. I saw the black clad SWAT officers pushing their way into MOVE houses with concussion grenades, armed to the teeth and ready for anything. It would be swift and it would be violent. Anyone who dared to get in their way would be dispatched without hesitation. I simply knew this was going to be the case. I knew this because I was certain that if I knew that MOVE was responsible for John’s death that the authorities knew it as well. I also knew that the first forty eight hours of any police investigation was the most crucial. If no arrest is made within that critical time period the chances of an arrest drop precipitously. Trails go cold quickly. They would come. They had to.

However, as nervous nights turned into fearful days I sat and held vigil with my MOVE comrades and to my complete shock nothing happened. The complete lack of any kind of response on the part of the police was more shocking to me than the murder had been. I had been feeding on a steady of diet of MOVE propaganda for the past several years of my life. And if there ever were a bogey man in the weird and convoluted world of MOVE it was the police officer. The cops were the main instrument of the “system’s” oppression apparatuses. Cops were unfeeling “motherfuckers” who did the bidding of their corporate masters. Jack booted thugs who were all too happy to kick babies out of mothers’ stomachs and drop bombs on people. That they were not kicking in all of our doors, kicking ass and taking names was absolutely unthinkable to those of us who supported MOVE.

There were a few people who seemed genuinely unafraid of a police assault and these were the people whom I would have thought would have been the most fearful. The leaders of MOVE did not seem to be that concerned at all about an imminent invasion. Of course they paid lip service to the fear and talked the talk of paranoid revolutionaries whose time had come. But the reality was slightly different. The barricades that they had erected to protect themselves were made from pine planks and not railroad ties. There were no weapons to be seen. No bull horned threats to kill any cops who would dare to try to force their way into the houses that John Africa had paid for in blood. There was none of that kind of talk to be found. Nothing that was really meaningful anyways. MOVE was always spouting off rhetoric, but I had been around long enough to know when they were serious and when they were on a media manipulation trip and when the cult was deadly serious.

To this day I can’t say for sure how it was that the leadership of MOVE knew not to be too worried. I could speculate, but I don’t think that will do anyone any good. There has been enough of that kind of thing to go around.

What I do know is that MOVE was right to not be particularly fearful of the police. To be sure, the police did come around asking questions. Slowly and cautiously they stumbled forth like a half of a drunk rousted out of a languorous stupor. They came with all kinds of imprecise talk and a complete lack of understanding about the criminal entity that was MOVE. MOVE members and supporters had been told what to say and how to roadblock the baffled cops. Based upon everything I heard the police interrogations went practically nowhere. In the interest of full disclosure I spent hours with the police doing the best I could do to help them. I offered leads and ideas and recounted in as much detail as I could muster my time in MOVE and the ruthless campaign that we waged against John prior to his murder. I did what I could. To this day I know that there are people who think I held back or didn’t give all that I could. They are wrong. I gave all that I could but I was going to no more lie against MOVE anymore than I would lie for them. The police did not turn me against MOVE. I had been turned by MOVE’s own actions. I had become disgusted and so disenchanted with MOVE’s murderous nature and child abusive tendencies that by the time I talked to the police I was willing to tell them all that I knew. I wanted those in MOVE who were responsible for John’s murder to be brought to justice. I really believed that this would happen. Sad to say, but I don’t know that this will ever occur.

I am writing these words not out of obligation, but rather out of a kind of fear. I am afraid that nine years after John’s murder nobody outside of his still grieving family cares about what happened. I want to be wrong and I want desperately for someone to prove me wrong. But I don’t see it happening.

If justice is more than a concept if it really is to be an apparatus and an instrument for good than it needs people of good intentions to work its gears and maintain a direction towards setting things right. But what history shows is that occasionally for some and more often than not for the poor the wheels of justice grind to a halt and along with it hope.

I do believe that there is more to justice than that of our temporal and materialistic conceptions. There is a more cosmic aspect to it. John Gilbrides suffering ended when his heart stopped beating. The suffering of his killers just began. They will hopefully be forever looking over their shoulders. I hope they quake with fear when unexpected visitors knock on their door or when police cars pull up behind them in traffic. I hope that their dreams are haunted by John’s un-avenged apparition. If John’s killer or killers are not complete sociopaths than I am sure they are suffering for what they have done. But for me I do not hold such faith in a cosmic order to completely surrender my desire for justice that is more tangible. Something we all can see and all can feel.

Most of all I want John’s son Zack to know what happened to his father. The truth of it. Not the lies that he has been told by his “mother” and the rest of her MOVE minions since he is old enough to remember. The boy who was lost to the cult is growing into a man needs to know the truth in order for him to be set free.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Osage Avenue: Still An Open Wound

Osage Ave: Still an open wound
By VALERIE RUSS
Philadelphia Daily News

russv@phillynews.com 215-854-5987

TWENTY-SIX YEARS ago today, Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on what had once been a quiet leafy neighborhood on Osage Avenue, near Cobbs Creek Park.

But Milton Williams is tired of talking about the bomb that started a fire that killed 11 people in the MOVE house and destroyed 61 homes.

"I want to know what the city is going to do now," said Williams, 62. "What are they going to do with all of these empty houses?"

Williams' community is still home to people who once worked as teachers, nurses, clerical workers, carpenters, police officers, roofers and truck drivers.

They are aging now, many over 60, some in their 80s and 90s, and they say the city has them in limbo, living in a blighted neighborhood with houses they can't sell.

The MOVE bombing destroyed all 40 homes on both sides of the 6200 block of Osage Avenue and 21 homes on the south side of the 6200 block of Pine Street.

The homes were so shoddily reconstructed after the 1985 fire - nearly every house had leaky roofs, bad plumbing, sagging floors because beams had not been properly installed, cedar siding peeling off exteriors, and faulty electrical wiring - that the original contractors went to jail because money was misused.

The city offered families $150,000 to leave their homes, and all but 24 accepted.

The families who stayed went to court and won an injunction against the city.

But Gerald Renfrow, president of the Osage/Pine Community Association, said U.S. Judge John P. Fullam dismissed the suit even though only eight of the 24 plaintiffs signed agreements to settle.

Since the 2008 dismissal, nine more plaintiffs have accepted what later became a $190,000 settlement, saying they felt worn down.

Thirty-seven of the 61 brick twin homes now sit abandoned, with plywood in front windows and exposed, tattered insulation flapping in the wind.

It looks like a war zone.

"It looks like Berlin looked in 1945 during World War II," said Williams, who drove a UPS truck for 32 years.

Now, residents of 23 homes that remain occupied say they want answers from the city about what it intends to do to rebuild the neighborhood - once again.

Last week, about a dozen neighbors protested outside City Hall after they were denied permission to protest outside Mayor Nutter's office.

They came to ask Nutter if he is aware the lawsuit was dismissed in 2008 "with insufficient evidence that all 24 homeowners agreed to settle."

Renfrew pointed out the city's own legal documents - filed in a motion to delay paying Moody's legal fees - prove that 16 of the 24 homeowners had refused to settle the case.

"After the parties settled the case in the summer of 2008, we anticipated receiving twenty-four releases from Plaintiffs," said a legal memo filed Aug. 18, 2009.

"Instead, however, we only received releases from eight of the twenty-four plaintiffs at that time . . . "

As far as the city is concerned, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said, the suit has been dismissed by a federal judge.

"It is sorely in need of renewal," McDonald said of the area.

But he added that little can be done "until all this matter between those private landowners, their attorney and the court is resolved."

Adrian Moody, the attorney who filed the suit for the Osage/Pine residents, did not return several phone calls from the Daily News.





Renfrow said that Clarence Armbrister, Nutter's chief of staff, told them after a protest last year that the city may take their homes by eminent domain.

McDonald, however, denied that the city wants to seize the homes.

But Renfrow believes that all that stands between their homes and a wrecking ball is the seven homeowners who have continued to hold out.

And he said those who took the settlement are reluctant to fix their homes because they think the city will come and bulldoze them later.

Renfrow said the city wants to force them out because the area, close to a lush, green park, public transportation routes, and entertainment at the Tower Theater and the 69th Street shopping area, would be a boon for gentrification.

Residents are used to feeling that they are being pushed out.

Back in 2000, after Mayor John Street took office, residents said Street stopped repairs on their homes that had begun under the Rendell administration.

Street told them, " 'I don't want to throw bad money after good' " and talked of bringing in a wrecking ball to tear down the neighborhood, according to Connie Renfrow, 64, Gerald's wife.

"When one of the neighbors asked if we would get the first chance to buy the new homes, Street said, 'No, because you won't be able to afford them,' " said Connie Renfrow, who moved to the block in 1980.

They also said Street "scared" people into accepting the initial $150,000 buyout offer by telling them the homes had faulty heaters and posed a carbon-monoxide threat.

"You don't condemn a house because of a faulty heater," Williams said.

"This was a problem that could be taken care of for $800."

"I have no comment except to say that the Street administration made every effort to be more than fair," Street responded in an email this week.





For many residents, not only were their homes poorly rebuilt, but the city planted trees that are now breaking up sidewalks.

Hazel Taylor, 63, said her insurance company is threatening to drop her if she doesn't repair the sidewalk.

But Taylor and others said the Fairmount Park Commission told them the city had not checked to see which trees to plant.

Now many of trees have roots that have buckled the sidewalks and torn up underground water pipes.

"I'm 63 and on a fixed income, I can't pay to fix this sidewalk," Taylor said.

Elizabeth Bostic, 90, said she will continue to fight for her home.

"I refuse to die until they settle this mess," declared Bostic, raising her arm in defiance.

"It was a beautiful place," said Virginia Cox, 78, who still speaks with a lilting Trinidadian accent despite moving to the block in 1971.

"You could leave your children and say, 'I'll be right back,' " she said. "You could leave your doors open, everyone would pitch in and watch and see and live and love like a family.

"But they break us up. They break us."

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