Philadelphia's health commissioner has resigned after admitting he improperly cremated the remains of victims of a 1985 bombing, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Thursday.
Kenney said he was "disturbed" when he learned that the commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, "made a decision to cremate and dispose of" the remains from the bombing ordered by Philadelphia officials 36 years ago of a home whose inhabitants belonged to a revolutionary group called MOVE.
The bombing killed 11 people, including five children, and sparked a fire that spread and destroyed dozens of homes in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood.
Kenney said in a news conference Thursday that an investigation was underway to find out more about what happened to the remains, adding that they had been described as "bone fragments" and were thought to have been cremated in 2017.
"This action lacked empathy for the victims and their families," Kenney said, adding that he asked Farley to resign effective immediately. Another official was placed on leave, and Dr. Cheryl Bettigole will serve as acting health commissioner, Kenney said.
He said that he delayed the announcement until he was able to tell family members about what happened and that he had "apologized after meeting with them for how this has been handled and how the city has been treating them for the past five decades."
Mothers of several of the children who were killed in the bombing spoke to NBC Philadelphia this week, describing their shock at learning that the remains were transferred years ago to the Penn Museum for identification instead of being given to them.