On Pine St., a random, brutal attack

Darren Rogers, 46, was a concierge in Old City for 26 years before being attacked.
Darren Rogers, 46, was a concierge in Old City for 26 years before being attacked.
Posted: November 27, 2011

Before two thugs interrupted his life in a few brutal moments on a Society Hill sidewalk, Darren Rogers was a man who found simple pleasures in keeping up a routine.

For two decades, Rogers, 46, has worked as a concierge at the Chocolate Works Apartments in Old City, always arriving, according to his coworkers, 30 minutes early for his overnight shift, smiling despite the late hour, and, after changing into his uniform, happy to talk sports and history.

In his 26 years at the job, Rogers did not call out sick, his boss said. If he changed shifts, it was to attend the Penn Relays or a jazz festival, his friends said.

"You can set a clock by his timing," said Emmitt Scott, 62, who works the front desk with Rogers.

A staple of Rogers' well-ordered routine were his long walks to work.

First, he'd catch a trolley from his Southwest Philadelphia apartment. From 30th Street, he'd walk a winding, nearly four-mile route to work - for the exercise, he told his friends, and for the peace he found in the busy rhythms of Center City, and in the quiet, historic streets of Society Hill.

Along the way, he'd listen to rock and jazz cassettes on his Walkman. Sometimes, he'd walk all the way home.

On Nov. 7, the rock band Rush played on Rogers' headset as he walked along the 400 block of Pine Street. It was near 11:30 p.m. The streetlamps threw faint light onto the redbrick sidewalk and onto the crooked headstones of the Old Pine Street Church cemetery.

A home security camera caught the next few moments.

Two men in hoodies split apart, forcing Rogers to walk between them. One of them threw a punch, knocking Rogers to the ground. They punched and kicked him for 45 seconds. A SEPTA bus passed.

The video footage is grainy, but it looks as if Rogers kicked his legs and flailed his arms in defense. Then, in the shadows, a muzzle flashes.

'Point-blank'

"Instead of taking off, one of them decides to stand over him and fire point-blank," said Detective Richard Bova, who is handling the case.

The men jogged away with nothing, with the shooter circling back to pick up his baseball cap.

Rogers lay shot once in his chest. The bullet ricocheted off his spinal cord.

"I can't move my legs," he told a man who found him.

Rogers' heart stopped that night on the operating table at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. And doctors again had to restart his heart the week after the shooting when a blood clot traveled from his leg. He has had four surgeries to repair his wounds, said his mother, Kelly Rogers.

She rushed from Indianapolis - where Rogers lived before the family moved to Philadelphia when he was about 12 - to be with her son.

"He loved this city too much to ever leave," she said. "The sports, the history, the architecture. He loves Philadelphia so much."

Rogers is still in the ICU, but he is growing stronger, his mother said. He is talking in a whisper now. Scott visited Rogers - whom he calls the "son I never had" - on Friday and said his friend was improving.

"You could see a gesture of a smile on his face, and he said he had feeling in his legs, which, of course, brought us a great sigh of relief," he said.

While Rogers is healing, investigators have few leads in the case, which they are describing as a robbery gone wrong.

Rogers is black, and his assailants are white, but police do not believe it was a racial attack.

"It looks as random as could be," Bova said. "He's just a guy working his way through life, and this has to happen to him."

It is the nature of things in Philadelphia that a shooting in Society Hill would usually gain heavy media coverage. Rogers' attack, though, was washed away in the flood of local attention and coverage paid to the Penn State scandal and the Occupy Philly protests.

The security video can be viewed on YouTube, at the Philadelphia police website, or at www.philly.com/pinestreet.

"We need the public's help in getting these two off the streets, because they will do it again," Bova said.

Police are describing the gunman as about 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, and said he was wearing a dark vest with a white design on the back and a black hooded sweatshirt.

He is believed to have used a small-caliber handgun, possibly a revolver, Bova said.

The second suspect is about 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds and wore all dark clothing, police said.

The attack has hit the tenants and employees of the Chocolate Works hard.

A building-wide collection has been taken up to help Rogers in his recovery.

'The sweetest'

A few doctors and nurses who live in the building, and work at the hospital, have been dropping in on Rogers daily. So have other tenants.

"He's just the sweetest, most reliable, laid-back person," said Suzanne Witt, who has lived in the building for 14 years.

Brian Killian, the property manager, said Rogers' job will be waiting for him.

For now, his coworkers have been covering his shifts.

Allison Jones has worked the desk with Rogers for 14 years. She's been visiting him, too.

"He was surprised how people cared about him so much," she said. "I told him: 'Darren, people don't just like you. They love you.' "

Tipsters should call Central Detectives at 215-686-3093.


Contact staff writer Mike Newall at 215-854-2759, mnewall@phillynews.com, or MikeNewall@Twitter.

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