Rittenhouse Square was awash in light — from the LED bulbs in the streetlamps to the faint glow from the sukkah in the middle of the square to the cell phone a man on a park bench held close to his face, squinting at the presidential debate on the screen.
It was 9:30 p.m., exactly 24 hours since a 17-year-old had walked into the park, attempted to rob a couple, and shot a man who tried to intervene. But for the buskers who line the center square and the couples strolling through on dates and the neighbors walking dogs, it was just Wednesday night.
Business as usual.
“I wish none of it would have happened,” said a man who gave his name as Taffee, 21. He hadn’t been on the square during the shooting, but had friends who were there. He came out the next night anyway — “because I’m from Philly,” he said, with a laugh.
The buskers on the square know the 39-year-old cyclist, shot five times as he attempted to stop the robbery, as “T.” He sells bottled water off his bike as the musicians play late into the night. One, who gave his name as Matthew, said he had seen the shooting from his perch on the concrete wall — “When he confronted [the shooter and his accomplice], they tried to grab his clothes and run through his pockets, and a gun got exposed really quickly.”
He heard six shots in quick succession. Passersby scattered, screaming.
Now, Matthew sat in the same spot on the concrete wall, as someone whirled around the square with a guitar in hand and a friend leaned her head on his shoulder and begged a cigarette. Matthew said he wasn’t nervous, even though the shooter is still out there. “I figure it’s an isolated incident,” he said. Police say the gunman knew the couple he tried to rob.
A squad car was stationed on 19th, and a beat cop paced through the square. “I can’t give a statement,” the officer said amiably. The crimes he deals with most here are cell phone snatchings. Behind him, a man stretched out on a bench for the night. A security guard walked over to shake hands. Dogs pulled their owners across the fertilized lawns.
“This happened in Rittenhouse?” asked Tarae Gregory, 24, who had walked down the street from his job at the Honeygrow on 19th to meet friends in the park. He had been at work all day and hadn’t read the news. “Who carries a gun in Rittenhouse? People come play Pokémon Go in this park. I’m one of those people that play Pokémon Go in this park.”
Scott Hughes and Tova Tenenbaum, both 28, had just been on a date around the corner and took a prime people-watching seat on the edge of the fountain. “It’s just a nice place to sit and enjoy the summer,” Hughes said.
A burst of laughter and a waft of marijuana smoke floated over from a corner of the park.
Kegan Hilaire and his wife Mary Rose coaxed their Labrador, Margot, into the bright lights in the center of the square. His sister is getting married in the park soon, and Hilaire wanted to take a few pictures for her.
“I was kind of surprised,” he said of the previous night’s events, “but we still live here. You still have to walk your dog. Life goes on.”