Birdie Africa: The lone child survivor of MOVE fire

Posted: May 07, 2010

MICHAEL MOSES WARD, then 13 and known as Birdie Africa, will forever be known as the only child who made it out alive.

His best friend and four other children died, along with six adults, including Michael's mother, Rhonda Harris Africa.

When the bomb hit, Ward and the other children, ages 9 to 14, were huddled under wet blankets in the basement. As flames engulfed the house, the terrified teen clawed his way out. He stumbled and fell in the alleyway, where the hot pavement burned his skin badly.

He was reunited at the hospital with his father, Andino Ward, who hadn't seen his son in years.

At 13, Birdie didn't know how to use a toothbrush. He had never been to school. He couldn't read or write or tell time.

1985: Ward's inside account of the 12-hour siege was perhaps the most chilling testimony put before the MOVE Commission. He described the relentless police gunfire-"do-do-do-do-do-do"-and how the house shook when the bomb struck the rooftop, and how the adults urged the children to flee.

"They told us to go out, and we said we didn't want to go, we wanted to be with them."

They darted out, only to be driven back into the burning house by bullets, he testified.

"And then when the fire got real heavy and we smelled all that smoke and we couldn't breathe, that is when we started yelling, 'The kids [are] coming out.' "

It was his mom who saved his life when she pushed him into the alleyway, he told the commission. (In press reports over the years, Ward has refuted a police version that Officer James Berghaier rescued him).

Quote: "We was in the cellar for a while . . . and tear gas started coming in and we got the blankets. And they was wet. And then we put them over our heads and started laying down."

2010: After MOVE, Ward's father helped him pick out a name -Michael Moses- from the Bible. He adjusted to life as a typical teen growing up in Lansdale, Montgomery County, where he played football in high school. In 1991 he and his dad settled a suit with the city for $840,000 plus lifelong, escalating monthly payments starting at $1,000 each.

Today, Michael, 38, is divorced from his high-school sweetheart with whom he has two kids: Rhonda, now 16, and named after his mother; and Michael, 12.

Through his father, he declined to be interviewed by the Daily News. In a 2005 Inquirer interview, he said he worked as a long-distance trucker and a barber. He served in the Army from 1997 to 2001, rising to the rank of sergeant. Andino Ward said his intensely private son was no longer a trucker but declined to say what he does now. He still lives in the Lansdale area, his father said.

-Wendy Ruderman

|
|
|
|
|