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In this Bonus Chapter to A Journey to the Center of the Mind, Book II, The Police Officer

Years, Im in my first year as a plainclothes officer on the Bensalem PD Tactical Squad. An


international trip was in the planning but then a major news story broke which almost changed
everything in my life. It was all about MOVE.

Chapter Fifteen
August of 1978 was going to be important to me, on a personal level. After about six
months of planning, scrimping, and saving money, I was going to take my first trip outside of the
U. S. In fact, it was to be my first trip ever, anywhere, on a commercial airliner. I was going to
Ireland, to visit the land of at least one-third my ancestors and of all Eileens ancestors and
family, including numerous members of the latter clan who were alive and still living there. It
was for two whole weeks, it was not very cheap, but it would be an experience which would no
doubt be a great one for both me and my wife.
But, we almost didnt go. Earlier that same month, reality reared its ever-so-ugly head in
my life once again. This time it involved one of my best friends. Its outcome could have
changed my plans to go on the Ireland trip, and my life too in some regard; this all because of the
Philadelphia-based radical group known as MOVE.

During the year prior to the summer of 1978, the Philadelphia media were virtually nonstop in their reporting coverage of the back-to-nature group known as MOVE. Much of that
coverage had to do with the Philadelphia Police Departments and other Philadelphia city
agencies ongoing interactions with them. It was not pretty.

MOVE is not an acronym, it is not an abbreviation, nor does the word stand for or
represent anything in-and-of-itself. It was simply the moniker initially chosen by this group of a
dozen or so official members, with additional associates, all with the self-assigned surnames of
Africa. The group made it very clear that they were adamantly opposed to technology, modern
conveniences, the prevailing societys mores, government, zoning, civil law, criminal law, etc.
This way-of-life could perhaps be seen as admirable if they were, in fact, living in remote parts
of the world away from significant population centers. But, they were not. Instead, they chose
to live in the highly populous Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia, on what could best
be described as an armed urban compound.
There were felony warrants out for several of the members of MOVE for various
offenses. These members each happened to live in the Powelton Village compound. But,
whenever police or other governmental agency officials would attempt to go there to resolve the
civil or criminal legal issues at hand, confrontations would ensue, guns would be drawn, threats
rendered, all with no viable resolution to the issue itself.
Eventually, for various legal and safety reasons, the Philadelphia Police Department,
under then Mayor Frank Rizzo, decided to cordon off the area and wait the residents out, on an
around-the-clock basis. With the utilities into the compound cut off, no food, no ingress and
egress for its members (to include numerous women and small children), it was felt that it would
only be a matter of time before the MOVE members would capitulate and surrender.
But they didnt.
The MOVE situation dragged on for months throughout early 78 and through the midsummer of that year. The Philadelphia print and electronic media, as well as some national

media, were all over this ongoing urban melodrama, with some facets of it being the front-page
headline and lead story almost every day and night during this timeframe in Philadelphia.

I had friends on the PPD and I would hear some interesting behind-the-scene stories
about the ongoing standoff, as most in the media were referring to it. For example, the MOVE
members were well-armed and known to have various high-powered semi-automatic rifles,
handguns, and lots of ammo. They would very visibly patrol their own compound day and night
with these weapons slung over their shoulders in a show of strength, power, and resistance. On
the other side of the fence and barricades, while assigned to these all-day and all-night details,
were members of the Philadelphia Police Department. And, as I would be told, they would
sometimes get bored and even, some would say, a bit experimental.
One little trick the PPD Stakeout Team (the precursor term used for what later was
referred to as SWAT Team) used to keep themselves interested and alert at night, and to also
test their adversaries potential strengths and capabilities, was a simple one. It was only even
possible because of then-recent advances in tactical-oriented weapon technology. This, no
doubt, was not lost on the anti-technology MOVE members, especially as the manifestation of
this particular new science hit them head-on, and literally so.
This new technology involved the science of laser beams. Specifically, at the compound,
at nighttime, the PPD officers would occasionally point their sniper-style rifles laser beams onto
the foreheads of one or more of the MOVE members as they patrolled the outer perimeter of
the compound. Of course, the so-targeted individual couldnt see the laser dot on his own
forehead, but when he would cross paths with one of his fellow armed members, and that person
would notice the laser dots dancing around in the space above the eyes and below the hairlines of

his MOVE compatriot, they both would immediately unsling their weapons, hit the deck, start
yelling for backup members, and otherwise create a ruckus, awakening the whole compound and
generally the whole neighborhood. But, as I was told, it was all for naught during those long
summer nights as the police were just testing reaction times. This along with the MOVE
members patience too, no doubt.
On other occasions, again usually late at night, when all was seemingly quiet, the police
officers from their various posts across the street from the MOVE compound utilized a less
sophisticated or technologically advanced form of testing reaction times. It involved a simple
dog whistle. As the compound had its own pack of dogs roaming it at any given time, also
barricaded subjects in their own way, the police found it an interesting exercise to sometimes
utilize these otherwise silent whistles to rattle the dogs to instinctively begin barking
uncontrollably. It worked. In doing so, of course, the humans within the compound also became
rattled, convinced it was the beginning of the end for them, and would come running out in full
battle garb and weaponry to protect themselves and their property.
While the last two types of incidents may seem like harassment of some sort and done
just to toy with the residents of the MOVE compound, I was told it also served a practical
purpose. That is, it let the police tactical members know what kind of response they would
eventually have to face, who would come from where, how many, assigned to what post, how
they would position themselves, what weapons they would be carrying, etc., once the day of
reckoning would arrive.

That day of reckoning did finally arrive. It was August 8, 1978, a bright and sunny, hot
and humid day in the City of Brotherly Love. The city was about to be MOVE-ed like no other

time in its history, with national and international headlines to follow. It was also to be a very
frightening day for me, and I was not even anywhere near the place. But a very good friend of
mine was, and it would be an even more frightening day for him.

Upon awakening that early August morning, all of the Philadelphia metropolitan area
learned through the media that today was the day the PPD was going in and addressing the
MOVE problem, once and for all. With search and arrest warrants in hand, their plan early that
morning was to announce over loudspeakers to the compound residents that the police action was
now commencing, and for the people inside to come out peacefully. After an hour-plus of this
with no positive response from the MOVE people Plan B was then put into play. That was to
breach the walls and protective fortifications of the compound with modified and fortified heavy
construction equipment and arrest as many of the wanted MOVE members as possible as they
scrambled out the doors and windows.
That was the plan, anyway.
Well, this plan didnt go very smoothly that morning, as few truly thought it would.
Shots rang out early on, and despite portions of the walls of the house/compound being broken
down, the heavily armed MOVE members barricaded themselves in the basement of the house
and continued firing their weapons for several hours out of the ground-level windows to fight off
the onslaught of the police.
Hundreds of rounds of gunshots were fired from the armed combatants, and the police
responded in kind. One of the first known fatalities was that of an initially unnamed PPD
officer. He was killed by a gunshot which originated from the MOVE compound. The news of

the officer being shot was broadcast on the TV and radio stations that morning, as the entire
event was being covered live by the various local electronic media outlets.

I arrived at work at the BPD that Tuesday morning at 10:00 to begin my eight-hour shift.
My assignment that day was the Neshaminy Mall. As soon as I got into my unmarked car, I put
on the play radio (in addition to the always-on police radio) to continue to follow the
developments of the day in my city of birth. Needless to say, it was non-stop coverage of the
events, including live broadcasts from reporters at or near the scene in which the rapid rat-a-tattat of live weapon fire could be heard in the background over their microphones. It sounded like
exactly what it wasan intense, ongoing firefight from an urban warzone.
I, like most people, was certainly hoping for a minimum of injury and life-loss that day,
although it didnt seem that could be possible from what was apparently unfolding in West
Philadelphia. Unfortunately, that early hopefulness was answered with the stark news that a PPD
officer had been fatally wounded. His name was eventually released - Officer James Ramp.
Other emergency and first-responder personnel were apparently wounded too, but with no names
being released yet. This situation wasnt getting any better. That was for sure.
Upon arriving at the mall, I recall meeting one of my Tac Squad colleagues. We parked
our unmarked cars facing the same direction next to each other so we could both watch one or
more entrances to the mall to keep an eye out for any potentially suspicious cars and/or people as
they entered the parking lot area. While both of us continued listening to the news on the radio,
our conversation through the open car windows was naturally occupied with this bizarre incident
playing out just about twenty miles due south of us. We acknowledged to each other that we
both felt sort of useless, as if we wanted to do something, somehow help out, but as it wasnt our

city, our department, our jurisdiction, and certainly not our problem, well, there just wasnt much
we could do here in Bensalem. We were brother LEOs to the ones who were being fired upon in
Powelton Village, but again, our hands were tied.
It was probably around 11:30 that morning, after our two cars split up and as I was
driving around the mall looking for the usual thieves, robbers, druggies, or even a pervert or two,
that I first heard the actual AM radio broadcast reports that altered my day, and my young life in
many ways. In it, the reporter initially re-summarized what was happening at the scene of the
ongoing shootout. He stated that presently the MOVE members had seemingly positioned
themselves in the large basement of the compound, firing their weapons at the police out of any
available ground-floor window. In view of this, the reporter continued, the police department
decided to call in Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD) personnel to assume positions some
distance away from the compound, yet close enough to fire their high-pressure water hoses
directly into the basement windows. This was done to force the shooters back into the house and
also hopefully flood them out.
It seemed logical, right? Maybe?
Except for the fact that as positioned, the firefighters were relatively unprotected, with
nothing but the street curb itself to protect them from the fusillade of bullets coming their way.
Nonetheless, they were asked to direct the streams of water from their hoses at the house, and
they did so to a man, bullets be damned.
As the reporters broadcasts became more detailed and specific, I heard the news I
dreaded for the first time. That is, besides a PPD officer being killed at the scene, there were
now numerous other injuries there too and that included several PFD firefighters.

HmmmI knew my good friend from my former Olney neighborhood, high school, and
later Penn State, John Welsh, was assigned to a ladder company in West Philadelphia, near
Powelton Village. It was one of the busiest ladder companies in the city and he loved being
there. Could John be part of this military-like onslaught? Was he even working today? I
wasnt sure. After all, it was difficult to keep up with his four days-on/four days-off weekly
work schedule.
These questions were answered during the next live-from-the-scene broadcast somewhere
around noon time. Thats when the reporter in his radio broadcast stated, We have more of the
names and details of the injured at the scene of the MOVE shootout in Powelton Village.
Ok, time for me to listen up, even more so than before. The reporter stated again that
PPD Officer Ramp was the police officer who was killed. There were other injured police
officers and firefighters named, and also the extent of their wounds. Then, as clear as day, came
the words I so did not want to cross over the broadcast waves. I can still hear the pitch and
timbre of the faceless male voice, as it emitted from my car dashboard radio speaker.
Those words were, in effect, and also injured and being transferred to the hospital
with a shotgun wound to the neck is Firefighter John Welsh. More to follow.
What? No, this cant be! a shotgun wound to the neck?
Dear God in Heaven, say its not so!
There is NO WAY that can be a minor wound. Can it?
I fired enough shotgun shells in my academy training and knew how lethal they were and
what they did to paper targets. I saw photos while in training of murder victims who had been
killed by a shotgun blast. I responded to at least one suicide call in which a man killed himself
with a shotgun. Needless to say, none were pretty. And, in Johns case, to the neck?

I didnt want to even think of the implications, the injuries, or worse. But I had to. He
was my friend, a very good friend. I had to do something to learn more about his injury, his
status, and this whole damn tragic event still ongoing in Philadelphia. Now its not just a news
story anymore, its personal. Very personal.
I called my Tac colleague over to my car location at the mall. I was visibly upset. He
could see it. I told him what I just heard on the radio regarding my good friend. I told him I
really couldnt work anymore today and that I wanted to take off the rest of the shift, to contact
Johns wife, his family, and do whatever it took to find out more about his condition and try to
support him and everyone around him. I told my colleague to tell Sgt. Whacky what I was doing
as I didnt feel like dealing with him at this particular moment.
My Tac Squad colleague no doubt could see my great level of concern only a minute or
two after having learned this shocking information from, of all places, a radio news station. He
offered to have me leave my unmarked car at the mall so he could drive me back to HQ. I
thought about it but told him I could make the drive. And I did.
I drove back to HQ. I dropped off my work car and went home. I didnt wait for my
sergeant to give me permission to leave. I just did it. I then called my wife at her place of work,
and she took off too for the rest of the day. We drove to my parents house in Olney, as that was
to be our base-of-operations until we learned more about John and his condition.

It took a few hours, some TV watching and radio listening, and about a dozen calls from
my parents house to Johns wife as well as a combination of calls to his parents and brothers and
our mutual friends that afternoon, for me to learn that it was, in fact, John who had been shot,
and that he was presently in one of the downtown Philadelphia hospitals. I was at some point

advised that his wounds were serious, but very fortunately, not life-threatening. It seems that
four shotgun pellets had lodged in his neck, but not that deeply.
I found out later the shotgun pellets had been fired from a relatively long distance,
apparently hitting the ground on the way to Johns prone curbside location. Their velocity had
slowed by the time they reached John and his fellow firefighters, thus reducing their potential
lethality as they hit the firemen. Not that there is EVER a good way to get hit in the neck or
anywhere else by a shotgun blast, but I suppose if there is a way to suffer lesser physical damage
to the body, Johns situation on the ground, his positioning, the distance involved, the
ricocheting, etc., somehow all played into his favor in this regard.
As it turned out, John stayed in the hospital overnight for observation. Mayor Frank
Rizzo visited his room that evening wishing him a speedy recovery. Very fortunately, John did
recover rather quickly and the attending physicians agreed he could be released the next
morning.

The following evening, I had a chance to see John at our mutual friend Jim Coyles house
along with our other buddies and their wives. It was Jims and his fianc Ginnys pre-planned
engagement party. John showed up with a thick gauze bandage on his neck, but otherwise he
was fine and in an overall good mood, all things considered. Along with recounting his
unplanned adventure of the day before, he additionally told us that because of the manner in
which the shotgun pellets lodged in his neck, it was decided by his medical team not to remove
them. The pellets seemingly presented no diagnosed short-term or long-term physical problems
for John. As such, they remain in his neck to this day. One wouldnt know this by seeing John,
or his neck.

In addition to Off. James Ramps death, the injured that day included seven police
officers, five firefighters, three MOVE members, and three bystanders. Nine MOVE members
were charged with and ultimately convicted of third-degree murder in the death of Off. Ramp.
They each remain in prison as of this writing. Their requests for parole have been rejected every
year theyve applied. The Powelton Village house/compound itself was razed to the ground
before the sun set on the day after the shootout.

In retrospect, the 1978 shootout with MOVE, as dramatic, tragic, newsworthy, and
personal to me as it was at the time, actually took a backseat to another incident in Philadelphia
with members of the same group on May 13, 1985. In this next standoff and tactical siege of yet
another MOVE house, this one on Osage Ave., only a mile or two from the original Powelton
Village location, hell would break loose once again, this time in the form of a shootout followed
by a blazing inferno which eventually destroyed an entire city block of rowhomes. This was the
result of an incendiary device dropped onto the roof of the house by Philadelphia Police
Department officers, in a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, of FBI supplied explosive
materials. To this day, this event remains the only aerial bombardment of an occupied structure
in the entire history of the U.S. And, it happened in the City of Brotherly Love, aka,
Philadelphia, of all places.
No police or firefighters died that day or were seriously injured, but eleven MOVE
members, including five children, were killed in the ensuing fire; a tragedy of epic proportions
no matter how its dissected.

One reason no firefighters were killed or injured in the 1985 incident is because they
were purposefully kept away from the shooting gallery portion of Osage Ave. as the day
unfolded. That was a wise decision on the part of the on-scene tactical supervisors prior to the
commencement of the operation itself. They obviously learned from what happened to otherwise
unprotected fire department personnel at the 1978 shootout. The firefighters assigned to Osage
Ave. were instead positioned off-site in standby mode. Once called upon, they dutifully put out
the fires, after it was clear the bullets were no longer flying around them or at them.
Indeed, at the 1985 confrontation, the Philadelphia Fire Department had a huge
conflagration to deal with on Osage Ave after the bomb was dropped and the fusillade of flying
projectiles finally came to a halt. The firefighters on the scene eventually did extinguish it, but
not before a total of sixty homes burned to the ground.

Back to August of 1978


When I saw John at the party the night after he was shot, we had a nice talk. He told me
and our friends what happened, how it happened, why it happened, of the sounds, the smells, the
mayhem, and all that he could recall to paint the picture of just what unfolded that day which
resulted in him being shot.
Before I left the party that night John pulled me aside. He asked me if I remembered our
chat in the bar two years ago to the month, just before I was to enter the police academy. I told
him I did remember it. Before I could say anything else, he simply said, Be careful running into
those burning houses. Look what just happened to me.
I knew exactly what John meant. That night two years ago at the bar he told me he was
very concerned about possibly getting shot in the line-of-duty if he would ever consider

becoming a police officer. In view of this mindset, he was very comfortable just fighting fires
he added, as a proud new member of the PFD. I admitted in turn that night in 76 that I was very
concerned of getting burned in a fire, so I figured Id continue to pursue a career in law
enforcement and take my chances with the bad guys.
However, as we came to realize at the tail-end of the Coyles party the night after the
MOVE shootout, Johns worse fears have become a reality with the permanent addition of those
several shotgun pellets to the front of his neck. Now Id have to be even more on guard about
house and building fires, John half-jokingly, half-seriously reminded me as we each finished a
beer. For very obvious personal reasons, I did not want the other half of that barroom
conversation from twenty-four months earlier to play itself out in any way, shape, or form in my
life. John getting so-wounded was bad enough. We both agreed it should be left at that.

MOVE hasnt gone away. Theyre still active in the Philadelphia area, and even beyond.
In fact, I even played a minor role in an open homicide investigation involving a former MOVE
associate who was shot to death in New Jersey in September, 2002.
At the Philadelphia-based, cold-case solving, Vidocq Society luncheon in 2010,
detectives from the Maple Shade (New Jersey) Police Department presented us with the case of
John Gilbride. He was a former MOVE associate and sympathizer who was also the ex-husband
of Alberta Africa, the widow of John Africa, killed in the 1985 incident. John and Alberta had a
child together. Upon their legal separation and eventual divorce, there were myriad custody
issues. The primary issue was simply Gilbrides attempt to see his young son, who was now
living in the yet another MOVE communal household. Alberta and others did everything they
could to prevent Gilbride from ever seeing his son. Eventually, at an oft delayed custody

hearing, a Philadelphia family court judge ruled that Gilbride was allowed to see his son on a
regular schedule.
After months of not seeing his boy, and on the night before he was to have his first,
official, court-sanctioned visitation with him, Gilbride was found shot to death, execution style,
in his car in the parking lot of the apartment building where he lived in Maple Shade. His
background and overall victimology (i.e., the personal and environmental factors which may
contribute to a person becoming a victim of a violent crime) were otherwise unremarkable,
except for his association with MOVE and the recent fiercely contested legal issues regarding his
desire to spend time with his son. For obvious reasons, one or more members or associates of
MOVE could not be ruled out as suspects in Gilbrides murder.
At the Vidocq Society meeting on that afternoon I, along with other legal, criminal,
forensic, and investigative experts, offered the detectives numerous suggestions and other
avenues they could pursue in a further attempt to resolve this matter. They had done some great
investigative work in the case already, but had reached some dead ends and were very
appreciative of the additional guidance provided to them that day.
Unfortunately, the homicide of John Gilbride remains unsolved as of this writing. But,
the detectives are still working diligently toward its resolution, with the Vidocq Society standing
by to offer further assistance if so requested.