In a tragic twist to an ongoing MOVE custody battle, John Gilbride, former MOVE supporter and father of six-year-old Zachary Africa, was found shot to death in his car in front of his home the morning of Sept. 27.
Gilbride had been involved in a four year long custody battle with the radical naturalist organization MOVE over the child he had with MOVE member Alberta Africa. MOVE says the issues began when Gilbride deserted his family when Zachary was two, disappearing without warning for six months. When he resurfaced, he demanded custody, which Alberta denied him, claiming he had a history of abuse and instability. She offered supervised visits whenever he wanted, which Gilbride refused. A recent court ruling gave Gilbride partial custody, including unsupervised weekend visits with the child. His first scheduled visit was to begin Sept. 20, but he was in Las Vegas.
Police say Gilbride was found in his parked car in front of his Maple Shade, NJ apartment complex, car still running, seatbelt still attached. Time of death is estimated at 11:30 p.m. Thursday night. They feel he was killed execution-style. Neighbors report hearing nothing at all. The body was found when a neighbor complained to police that headlights had been shining into her apartment for over 30 minutes.
Maple Shade police say they have no leads as of yet but are "pursuing all possibilities." These possibilities include the MOVE organization, and police have said they will bring Alberta in for questioning.
The organization was already on high alert because of the custody ruling, which they had defied, refusing to hand over the child. Their 4504 Kingsessing home was fortified a couple of weeks ago, which wooden slats placed over the windows, and food stockpiled in the house. MOVE is continuing these precautions, because they say this will be used as another excuse to attack MOVE. "They use whatever they can to come at us, just to implicate us. We're a very peaceful organization, we're a non violent organization but we do believe in self defense. People know that and they want to play on the media attacks on us," says Tiffany Robbins, MOVE supporter.
In a statement issued Friday, the group denied any involvement in the death. "MOVE is committed to protecting our children, but we're not killers or murderers." It goes on to say that the group is "deeply saddened and hurt by the blow we received this morning of the news that John is gone."
Police also announced Sept. 29 that they had contacted the FBI to aid with the investigation. MOVE feels this is just another tactic to harass the organization. "I don't put anything past this government or their agents, whatever form their agents come I, whether it be the courts or the police or the FBI. They wanted to hurt MOVE with this, and they did, they hurt us bad with this. John was someone we were really familiar with," Robbins explains.
But Inspector William Colarulo, Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson, says this case does not currently involve his police department. "This is being handled by the Maple Shade police. As far as I know, it doesn't involve MOVE, because the deceased was not a MOVE member, and there is nothing currently to implicate them."
At a press release held the day Gilbride's body was discovered, the organization invited the press inside their barricaded home, into a comfortable living room, where Alberta Africa sat in a plush arm chair, obviously distraught.
She stated that she and MOVE had nothing to do with Gilbride's death, and instead pointed the finger at the government, referencing the horrific history MOVE has with city administration which culminated in Philly police dropping a bomb on MOVE's house in May 13, 1985, killing 11 people including five children, and setting fire to an entire city block. "I've experienced a lot of pain at the hands of this government, and I believe this government is behind this," Alberta stated. She pointed to the professional nature of the murder, saying it sounded like government agents or military Special Forces. "That may sound far fetched to you people, but any government that would drop a bomb on babies is capable of anything."
Far from wanting Gilbride's death, Alberta says they were beginning to mend their differences, and find peace. "I never wanted anything to happen to John because as long as he was alive, there was hope. We still loved each other very much," she said, then broke off, crying.
MOVE says Gilbride was murdered because if he and Alberta mended their relationship, the government would lose its excuse of the custody battle to persecute MOVE. "They knew that John Gilbride had the potential to come back to MOVE, which took away their justification to continue this court battle. So they upped the ante," said a statement by MOVE supporters. The press release ended by saying, "We as supporters are not going to sit by and allow this system to create another May 13, 1985. We are not going to allow this system to get away with murder."