By MICHAEL RUBINKAM
Michael Moses Ward, one of two survivors of the 1985 bombing of the militant group MOVE in a Philadelphia neighborhood and the only child to make it out alive, has died at 41.
Ward died aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean, according to the Brevard County, Fla., medical examiner’s office. His body was found in a hot tub Friday, the apparent victim of a drowning, investigator Craig Engelson said Wednesday.
Ward was a 13-year-old boy known as Birdie Africa when Philadelphia police, trying to dislodge MOVE from its fortified inner-city compound, dropped explosives on the roof. The bombing killed five children and six adult members of the group, including Ward’s mother, and ignited a fire that destroyed 61 row homes.
Birdie Africa and Ramona Africa, then 29, escaped with major burns.
The teenager went to live with his father, Andino Ward, who changed his son’s name. Ward recovered from his injuries and later served in the Army.
A 2005 profile in The Philadelphia Inquirer said he was a truck driver and divorced father of two living quietly in the Philadelphia suburbs.
“I think about it from time to time,” he said then, “but I don’t dwell on it.”
His father said Wednesday that Ward had put the past behind him.
“He was great; he was doing well,” Andino Ward told The Associated Press.
Michael Ward and his siblings had treated their father to a cruise aboard the Carnival Dream to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary, and the 50th anniversary of Ward’s sister’s in-laws, Andino Ward said. Ward’s body was found on the last day of the cruise.
“We are just very happy we got the chance to spend the last week of his life with him, and that it was a very joyful, happy time, as we got to see him scuba dive for the first time in his life and enjoy it, swim with the dolphins,” Andino Ward said.
He said his son was extremely fit, and the family is baffled by his death.
“The whole thing is very, very strange. You’re talking a 41-year-old man with the body of a 17-year-old,” Ward said. “He worked out every day and was very particular about what he put in his body. We just don’t understand it.”
Officials in Florida are awaiting the results of a toxicology test before determining the cause and manner of death.