Princeton University releases report on the handling of human remains from the 1985 MOVE bombing

Princeton University officials have released a 56-page report on the handling of human remains from the 1985 MOVE bombing.

In April, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber announced that he was authorizing a fact-finding investigation by a legal firm to gain a better understanding of the scope and nature of Princeton’s role in the handling of the MOVE bombing remains.

Journalists in Philadelphia reported in the spring that the remains of victims of the Philadelphia Police Department’s 1985 bombing of a house occupied by members of the MOVE organization were used for instruction at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. After the stories were published, university officials apologized to the Africa family for the use of the remains in courses offered by Princeton. 

The report released on Tuesday confirms that the remains were never in storage at Princeton University, but were used twice in Princeton courses – once in a small graduate-level seminar taught on the Princeton campus in 2015, and once in a video recorded for an undergraduate course offered in 2019. The video was filmed at the Penn Museum, and the course was later offered to the public by Princeton, free of charge, on the Coursera online course platform. The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office released the remains to Dr. Alan Mann and Dr. Janet Monge in 1986, but the medical examiner and the members of the Africa family were not consulted prior to the use of the remains for instruction, according to the report. During the time period when the remains were used in Princeton courses, officials said the university did not have policies in place specifically addressing the ethical use of human remains in teaching and research activities.

The report concluded that no laws or ethical principles were violated, but that Mann and Monge’s conduct showed “exceedingly poor judgment and insensitivity to the ramifications of their actions.” The law firm Ballard Spahr reviewed thousands of documents and interviewed 23 people from within and outside the Princeton University community as part of the investigation commissioned by Eisgruber.

Ballard Spahr found that:      

  • In 1986, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office provided Mann, then a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, with a femur and pelvis fragments belonging to one MOVE victim so that he could continue efforts to identify them. He asked Monge, who was then a Penn graduate student, to assist him.  
  • The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office’s transfer of the remains to Mann occurred after the remains had been identified by the MOVE Commission as Katricia Africa, and her family had accepted that identification. The assistant medical examiner overseeing the investigation ultimately did not agree with the MOVE Commission’s identification, and neither did Mann.
  • Since 1986, Mann and Monge believed they were not required to return the remains to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office until they successfully identified them. Neither Mann nor Monge contacted the office after the office provided Mann with the remains for identification in 1986.
  • When Mann, who is now retired, joined the Princeton faculty full-time in 2001, the remains of the MOVE bombing victim stayed at the Penn Museum in Monge’s custody. The remains were never kept in storage on the Princeton campus, either before or after 2001.
  • Monge brought the remains of the MOVE bombing victim to Princeton’s campus up to five times between 2001 and 2015 to analyze them with Mann and visiting experts, and to use them during one class session of an in-person graduate-level seminar. Monge never kept the remains on Princeton’s campus for more than a few days and always returned them to the Penn Museum. The remains were never on the Princeton campus after 2015.
  • The remains of the MOVE victim were used for instruction twice in Princeton courses:  in the seminar in 2015, and in a video used for an undergraduate course in 2019. The same video was used in the Coursera course launched in 2020, which was free and available to the public. The video showing the remains was filmed at the Penn Museum.
  • Princeton did not have policies in place specifically addressing the ethical use of human remains in teaching and research activities.
  • Over the last 25 years, ethics guidance for biological anthropologists has evolved to encourage communication with communities affected by anthropological activities. Monge and Mann did not contact individuals or communities, including members of the Africa family, with an obvious interest in the remains before using them for instruction and in continued forensic analysis. 
  • Although their conduct did not violate any law or binding ethical rules, Mann and Monge showed exceedingly poor judgment and insensitivity to the ramifications of their actions and omissions.

The report includes the following recommendations:

  • Princeton University should consider establishing an oversight board to guide the appropriate use of human remains for research or teaching at the university.
  • The university should consider issuing a position statement regarding the use of human remains.
  • Human remains that are authorized for use in research or teaching at Princeton University should be stored in a secure, dedicated location on campus that is respectful, facilitates preservation, and properly identifies the remains.
  • Princeton University should periodically conduct an audit of laboratories or facilities in which human remains might reasonably be located, and be cognizant of research and teaching activities in which human remains might be used.  

“As I said last April, this university has an ethical obligation to treat people and communities with dignity and respect,” Eisgruber said in a written statement on Tuesday. “I regret that remains of a victim of the MOVE bombing were used in Princeton courses without consultation with those affected by the bombing, including the Africa family. I again extend the university’s apologies for the use of the remains.”

School officials said the university has already undertaken a number of steps that are in alignment with the report’s recommendations.  A university working group is considering policies and protocols for the use of human remains for research and scholarly purposes and is developing recommendations for university leadership. In April, after the controversy over the use of the remains began, the Department of Anthropology released a new policy on the use of human remains in research.