George Widman/Associated Press

An effort to rout a separatist group touched off a fire that killed 11 people, including 5 children.


Published: September 27, 2013

  • When the boy ran from the house, he was burned over a fifth of his body and so malnourished that at 13 he looked like a child of 9.

H. Rumph Jr./Associated Press

Michael Ward in 1996.

He had never been to school and could not read, write, use a toothbrush or tell time. His mother would die in the fire he had fled.

Yet after years of rehabilitation from injuries physical and psychological, he graduated from high school, served in the Army, became a father and made a career as a long-haul trucker and a barber.

The boy, then known as Birdie Africa, and later as Michael Ward, was one of just two people — and the only child — to survive the Move bombing, the 1985 Philadelphia debacle in which police officers seeking to rout a black separatist group touched off a fire that killed 11 people, 5 of them children, and destroyed three city blocks.

Mr. Ward, 41, died Sept. 20 while vacationing aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean. An investigator for the Brevard County, Fla., medical examiner’s office told The Associated Press that Mr. Ward’s body was found in a hot tub on the ship, the Carnival Dream. The apparent cause was accidental drowning.

The Move bombing endures in the national memory as one of the most shameful episodes in Philadelphia’s history.

In an interview on Friday, the filmmaker Jason Osder, who made a documentary about the bombing, said that Mr. Ward’s death “in a strange way has reminded us of the nature of the event itself: it’s tragic that he died young, but it serves as a reminder of the other five children that didn’t even live to age 41.”

Mr. Osder’s film, “Let the Fire Burn,” which is organized around 13-year-old Michael’s videotaped testimony at the official inquiry into the bombing, is scheduled to open at Film Forum in New York on Wednesday and nationwide afterward.

On May 13, 1985, hundreds of police officers converged on Move’s fortified row house in West Philadelphia, intent on serving arrest warrants on several of its members. After a gun battle during which the police failed to dislodge the group, they dropped explosives on the roof.

The explosion started a fire that destroyed Move’s house and 60 others, leaving some 250 people homeless. All of the 11 dead were Move members or their children; only Michael and Ramona Africa, an adult in the group, survived.

Although Move positioned itself as a radical back-to-nature group, it was run, in the young Mr. Ward’s accounts, far more like a cult.

Michael Moses Ward — the name his father gave him after he was rescued — was born Olewolffe Momer Puim Ward on Dec. 19, 1971, the son of Andino Ward and the former Rhonda Harris.

His parents separated when he was about 2, and he spent his early childhood with his mother in a Move commune in Virginia, where they became known as Rhonda and Birdie Africa. (In solidarity with Move’s founder, John Africa, né Vincent Leaphart, members took Africa as their surname.) Michael and his mother later went to live with the group in Philadelphia.

As Michael testified afterward, Move’s children were forbidden cooked food and contact with outsiders. While the adults around them ate hot meals, the children subsisted largely on a diet of raw fruit and vegetables, deemed purer — and therefore fit for children — by the movement’s leaders.

Toys were also forbidden, though the children grew skilled at spotting neighborhood children’s discards on the street and secreting them about the house.

“We would poke little holes in the wall and hide toys there,” Mr. Ward, who spoke to the news media only rarely, said in a 1995 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I remember I had a toy soldier hidden in the wall in the basement.”

Michael and the other children resolved to run away. When Move’s leaders got wind of their plan, he said in the Inquirer interview, they told the children that if they did, they would be tracked down and killed.

Testifying in the fall of 1985 in the city’s inquiry into the bombing, Michael told of huddling in the basement during the standoff, listening to bullets fly and then hearing an explosion (“It shook the whole house up,” he said) before being pushed by his mother into an alley behind the house.

Afterward, he was reunited with his father, who lived outside Philadelphia and had been searching for him for years, unaware that he was so close at hand.

He learned to read and write, graduating from high school in Lansdale, Pa., where he was on the football team, and attending junior college briefly. From 1997 to 2001, he served in the Army, attaining the rank of sergeant.

Move’s legacy remained visible in the burn scars on Mr. Ward’s face, arms and torso. It could be discerned in other ways as well.

“I have a hard time getting close to anybody, feeling anything about anybody,” Mr. Ward told The Inquirer. “It has to do with the way I was brought up.”

He added: “It’s not even so much the fire. I had some bad dreams about the fire when I was little, but not anymore. The things that bother me most are the things I remember about Move before the fire. There are some things that happened that I can’t talk about.”

As was widely reported, under the terms of a 1991 settlement with the City of Philadelphia, Mr. Ward and his father were to receive a lump-sum payment of $840,000, followed by a series of lifetime monthly payments starting at $1,000 and increasing over the years.

Andino Ward has said publicly that all of the initial payment went to legal fees; Michael Ward said that he had never grown rich from the rest.

Michael Ward, who lived in Pennsylvania, was divorced. Besides his father, his survivors include a son, Michael, and a daughter, Rhonda. The family did not return telephone calls, and further information about Mr. Ward, including his survivors, could not be confirmed.

In the Inquirer interview, Mr. Ward spoke of the fire as a devastation — but not an unalloyed one.

“In a way, I’m glad it happened,” he said. “The only regret I have is about me being hurt and my mom dying and the other kids. I feel bad for the people who died, but I don’t have any anger toward anybody. See, I got out.”




Published: September 25, 2013

  • Marta Heflin, an actress who appeared in New York stage musicals like “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the 1960s and ’70s, and later in a string of Robert Altman movies that capitalized on her waifishness, died on Sept. 18 in Manhattan. She was 68.

Leo Friedman

Marta Heflin in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” She also had a film and television career.

A paid death announcement in The New York Times on Sunday said she had died after a long illness. No further details were given.

Ms. Heflin was best known for her featured roles in Mr. Altman’s 1979 romantic comedy, “A Perfect Couple,” and his 1982 film of Ed Graczyk’s play, “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” with an ensemble cast that included Sandy Dennis, Kathy Bates, Karen Black and Cher. She was in the Broadway production, which Mr. Altman directed as well, that same year.

Mr. Altman said in interviews that Ms. Heflin’s unconventional, sometimes awkward beauty lent authority to her portrayal of average people in both films.

In “Come Back,” she played a beleaguered character, pregnant for the seventh time, attending the reunion of a James Dean fan club 20 years after the actor’s death. In “A Perfect Couple,” she was a ragamuffin singer who, while living with a rock band, meets a paunchy middle-aged man (Paul Dooley) through a dating service and falls in love.

Ms. Heflin had small supporting roles in Frank Pierson’s remake of “A Star Is Born” (1976), starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson; “A Wedding” (1978), Mr. Altman’s comedy of manners; and Martin Scorsese’s “King of Comedy” (1982), starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis.

She also appeared on the NBC soap opera “The Doctors” and in several made-for-television movies, including the concentration camp drama “Playing for Time” (1980), with Vanessa Redgrave, and “The Gentleman Bandit” (1981), about a priest wrongly accused of a series of armed robberies.

A cabaret singer as well, Ms. Heflin performed frequently at New York nightclubs. In a 1973 review of a cabaret performance, John S. Wilson of The New York Times praised her voice for its “warm, sunny glow” and “gospel song fervor.”

Marta Michelle Heflin was born on March 29, 1945, in Washington, to Julia and Martin Heflin, a power couple of their day. Her mother was a journalist and theater producer and her father a public relations executive who was the brother of Van Heflin, the Hollywood actor. Information about survivors was not available.

In 1967, Ms. Heflin was in the chorus of a revival of the Lerner and Loewe musical “Brigadoon” at the City Center when she unexpectedly got her big break. Without rehearsal, she stepped into a prominent role as the soubrette Meg when the actress performing the part (without an understudy), Karen Morrow, came down with pneumonia.

In the next few years she landed roles in “Fiddler,” “Hair” and “Salvation,” a rock revue in the form of a Salvation Army-like revival meeting. “I played a nymphomaniac,” Ms. Heflin said in a 1984 interview. Not the obvious kind but the quiet type, she added wryly: “The kind that wears Peter Pan collars.”





Published: September 24, 2013

  • Christopher Koch, who was widely regarded as one of Australia’s finest novelists and whose best-known book, “The Year of Living Dangerously,” became even better known as a film, died on Monday in Hobart, Australia. He was 81.

Jerry Bauer/Viking

Christopher Koch

The cause was cancer, said his agent, Margaret Connolly.

Guy Hamilton, the lead character of “The Year of Living Dangerously,” was loosely based on Mr. Koch’s younger brother, Philip, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Commission who covered the violent decline of the regime of President Sukarno of Indonesia in the 1960s.

In Mr. Koch’s narrative, Hamilton’s personal life and his work as a journalist become entangled with people whose identities and loyalties are slowly revealed to be more complicated than he expected — echoing the mystery with which many Australians regarded Asia and its political turbulence at the time.

The book was published in 1978. The film, whose screenplay Mr. Koch (pronounced kosh) co-wrote, was released in 1982, with Mel Gibson in the starring role. (Mr. Gibson’s tense signoffs to his radio dispatches — “This is Guy Hamilton in Jakarta” — are remarkably similar to those of Philip Koch, some of which are available online.)

The film, directed by Peter Weir, also stars Sigourney Weaver, as a British spy and Mr. Hamilton’s romantic interest, and Linda Hunt, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Hamilton’s male cameraman and mentor, Billy Kwan.

The book initially received little attention outside Australia, but the film’s success brought Mr. Koch new acclaim, both at home and internationally. His work was often cited as helping Australia to shift its cultural focus from its Western ancestors in Britain and Ireland toward its increasing engagement with Asia.

Two of his later novels, “The Doubleman,” and “Highways to a War,” which was based loosely on the life of the Vietnam War photographer Neil Davis, won the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s highest literary honor.

Christopher John Koch was born on July 16, 1932, in Hobart, on the southern Australian island of Tasmania. His father, Burton, an accountant, and his mother, Phyllis, were concerned about him when he dropped out of school and was later reprimanded for reading too much while working in a bookstore. He eventually graduated with honors from the University of Tasmania with degrees in English and philosophy.

He worked as a radio producer for the Australian Broadcasting Service in Sydney for many years before devoting himself full time to writing, starting in 1972.

Survivors include his wife, Robin; a son, the classical guitarist Gareth Koch, from an earlier marriage that ended in divorce; his brother, Philip; and a sister, Susan.

He published his first novel, “The Boys in the Island,” in 1958, which helped him win a creative writing fellowship to Stanford a few years later. The book was a coming-of-age story about a young man growing up in Tasmania but dreaming of moving to the mainland.

Mr. Koch and the characters in many of his books frequently migrated between Tasmania and the rest of the world. In Mr. Koch’s case, he moved back and forth to Sydney several times before he settled in Tasmania in the town of Richmond, outside Hobart.

“It’s the eternal circle, to escape and to return,” he told The Hobart Mercury in 1995. “It’s the penalty for being an islander.”





Published: September 23, 2013

  • The rain has beaten me And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives I shall go beyond and rest, I have no kin and no brother, Death has made war upon our house

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Kofi Awoonor

Timeline of the Kenya Mall Shooting

DAKAR, Senegal — Ghanaian schoolchildren memorized those lines from the 1960s by one of their country’s most famous poets, Kofi Awoonor; their sorrow over the newly liberated continent’s travails foreshadowed, in a terrible way, the violence that took Mr. Awoonor’s life on Saturday.

Mr. Awoonor — poet, diplomat, statesman, scholar and cultural icon in his native Ghana — was killed in the terrorist attack by Somali militants on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. His death at 78 has shocked citizens in Ghana, the West African nation whose difficult beginnings and subsequent steadying he accompanied and chronicled.

Mr. Awoonor published novels and books of verse, including poems like “Songs of Sorrow” that were required reading for several generations of Ghanaian schoolchildren. He was his country’s ambassador to the United Nations in the early 1990s, taught at universities in the United States and Ghana, knew W. E. B. DuBois, and was president of Ghana’s Council of State, a governmental advisory body. News reports in Ghana said he had been invited to a conference in Nairobi and had gone to the mall to have breakfast with his son, who was wounded in the attack.

“He had a huge influence on Ghanaian poetry and Ghanaian academia,” said Akwasi Aidoo, a Ghanaian who is executive director of TrustAfrica, a pan-African good-governance foundation, who knew Mr. Awoonor for nearly 40 years. “He was one of the first poets after Ghanaian independence.”

Because Mr. Awoonor was imprisoned for his activism during a time of repression in the mid-1970s, “we saw him more as an organic intellectual, as somebody who was not just confined to academia, somebody interested in the broader economic and social struggle,” Mr. Aidoo said.

His poetry was heavily influenced by the funeral dirges of his native Ewe people, one of Ghana’s smaller ethnic minorities; his grandmother was an Ewe dirge singer, according to the Poetry Foundation. The early poetry that gained him his reputation in the 1960s in Ghana “reflected the challenges that Ghana and Africa were going through during the postcolonial period,” Mr. Aidoo said. “He was constantly emphasizing the pain, the pain and suffering of our people.”

“Songs of Sorrow,” perhaps his best-known poem, is an extended lament for a world of African difficulty and hardship, replete with foreboding of latent chronic violence of the sort that erupted on Saturday in Nairobi. A pan-Africanist and admirer of Kwame Nkrumah, the president who led Ghana to independence and was overthrown in a coup, Mr. Awoonor was pained by the continent’s early travails.

“Funeral dirges — he used that form to lament the state of Africa, the oppression,” said Esi Sutherland-Addy, an associate professor at the University of Ghana. “It was a convenient form to talk about oppression.”

Public figures in Ghana, including President John Dramani Mahama, expressed their sorrow at Mr. Awoonor’s death. “I think we’re all in shock,” Ms. Sutherland-Addy said.


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