MOVE bombing

Remains of 2 Girls Killed in 1985 Philadelphia MOVE Bombing Returned to Brother

The bombing and subsequent handling of the victims’ remains has been a source of controversy and sorrow for years

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Two child victims of the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia will finally have a final resting place after the city returned their remains to their brother, the latest twist in a saga that began when the city infamously ordered the bombing of a home in 1985, killing 11 people inside.

The remains of Katricia and Zanetta will be cremated and then transported to North Carolina to be buried, brother Lionell Dotson told NBC10 outside the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s office Wednesday morning. Dotson said Katricia was 14 and Zanetta 12, though reports over the years have listed different ages for the girls.

They were two of the five children killed in the bombing.

“For the city to give me this is a momentous occasion. It’s not about me; it’s about them. Finally giving them a resting place permanently – I can do this for them,” Dotson, who was 8 years old when his sisters were killed, said.

The bombing and subsequent handling of the victims’ remains has been a source of controversy and sorrow for years.

An independent investigation released in June of this year noted differing opinions by various experts over the years as to whom some of the remains of the MOVE bombing victims belonged. Though the report acknowledged that identifying the remains "is beyond the scope of our engagement," it concluded that the remains at the city medical examiner's office may have been "associated" with Katricia and Zanetta, as well as five other victims.

“I’ve got family members who told me that they buried my children,” Consuewella Africa, mother of Katricia and Zanetta, told NBC10 last year. “Now, 36 years later they’re talking about, they’ve got bones.”

Consuewella Africa died last year.

“I’m carrying the torch for Consuewella Dotson, Katricia and Zanetta Dotson,” Lionell Dotson said. Members of MOVE went by the surname Africa at the time, with other members keeping the surname in the decades since.

The MOVE bombing remains one of the darkest days in Philadelphia history. On May 13, 1985, the City of Philadelphia ordered the bombing of a home housing members of the revolutionary, back-to-nature group in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood following a standoff and shootout with police. The bombing culminated with a city block going up in flames.

Last year, MOVE members learned that that decades ago, the city medical examiner gave human remains from the bombing site to Penn Museum for identification, sparking protests and outrage. 

Former health commissioner Thomas Farley later revealed that he had ordered the remains, thought to be bone fragments, cremated in 2017. However, the remains were not destroyed after all. A subordinate of Farley's in 2017 decided not to follow the commissioner's orders and saved the remains, a lawyer involved with the Africa family said.

The ordeal led to Farley’s ouster.

The remains of sisters burned to death in the 1985 Philadelphia MOVE bombing have been collected by their brother, Lionell Dotson Sr., who plans to give them a final resting place outside Pennsylvania. NBC10’s Randy Gyllenhaal has the story.

Some of the remains were eventually returned to other members of the Africa family, but Dotson had to wait until Wednesday to receive the remains of his sisters, a development that he called “bittersweet.”

The city declined to comment on the return of the remains, but Dotson said after stepping out of the medical examiner's office that the medical examiner came out of her own accord and gave him a "sincere" and "heartfelt" apology for the actions of her predecessors.

“I finally get to take them away from the city that helped kill them,” Dotson said about his sisters.

Editor’s note (Aug. 5, 2022): This article has been updated to note discrepancies in the ages attributed to Katricia and Zanetta. 

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