Philadelphia restaurateur Norris Jordan was navigating the narrow, stop-and-go streets of Rittenhouse Square behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz just before 11 Thursday night. He had just picked up his good friend Sean Schellenger, a promising real estate developer, along with another friend, when an encounter with an Uber Eats delivery bicyclist took a deadly turn.
Jordan, who owns Lou Bird's and the Happy Rooster, watched from the driver's seat as Schellenger got out of the passenger's seat and walked up to the bicyclist, and an altercation ensued. Jordan came to Schellenger's aid as he lay bleeding from a stab wound and stayed with his friend until paramedics and police arrived, according to William Harvey, a lawyer for Jordan.
Less than a half-hour later, Schellenger, 37, of Point Breeze, was pronounced dead at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
"He's devastated," Harvey said Sunday of Jordan. "Sean was a very good friend of his. It's a complete tragedy. He's just really struggling to deal with what happened, as you can imagine."
Harvey's account on behalf of Jordan contradicted an earlier statement by Homicide Capt. John Ryan. During a news conference Friday, Ryan said Schellenger, Jordan, and the third friend — who has not been identified — all got out of the Mercedes on Chancellor Street, near 17th. The men encountered Michael J. White, who was en route with a food delivery on his bicycle.
"That story is wrong. He did not get out of the car with the others," Harvey said of Jordan. "After the event went down, he pulled his car over and parked on 17th Street."
According to Ryan, the Mercedes got stuck in traffic on Chancellor Street around 10:50 p.m. Thursday. The three men got out of the car in an effort to get a driver in front of them to move. The trio somehow encountered White, who was delivering food on his bicycle. After a heated argument with Schellenger, Ryan said, White pulled a large knife from his backpack and stabbed him once in the back. White then fled on foot, leaving his red bike and delivery bag behind, Ryan said. The driver remained on the scene, but the other friend left the scene, he said.
Reached Sunday evening and asked about the two different versions about who got out of the Mercedes during the encounter, Ryan said his detectives are still investigating and he did not know if they had formally interviewed everyone involved. He added that detectives had hoped to obtain video from surveillance cameras mounted on businesses in the area, but that so far they have not found any footage. There are "some videos" that were posted on social media of the episode but detectives are still examining what they show, Ryan said.
He said he did not know whether any of the three men in the car was intoxicated, adding that officers did not test them for alcohol or drugs because the case is not a DUI. Toxicology results from Schellenger could take about a month, Ryan said.
Authorities charged White, a 20-year-old college student and poet, with murder and possession of an instrument of crime. During an arraignment on Saturday, Magistrate Sheila Bedford ordered White held without bail and set an Aug. 1 court date.
Greg Thompson, a spokesman for White's family, said over the weekend that White acted in self-defense. On Sunday, Thompson said White routinely kept a knife in his backpack for "his own protection" because he delivered food late into the night.
Working for Uber Eats, an online food delivery service, he had just picked up an order from a Popeyes in Center City and was on his way to deliver it when the men started a fight with him, according to Thompson.
"He's not a violent young man," Thompson said. "He was working late at night and that was for his protection."
Thompson, the program manager of Philadelphia Peaceful Surrender, which helped White turn himself in, said White told him that he fled the scene after stabbing Schellenger because he was afraid for his life.
"This young man is being unfairly portrayed as the perpetrator and he was not," Thompson said. "All three men who got out of the car were extremely intoxicated and extremely aggressive."
Thompson said the story recounted by police doesn't add up. "The story is that they all got out of the car trying to move traffic," he said, "but if that were the case, one person would go up to the driver of the car that's blocking the street and say, `Sir, could you just move over so I could get through?' But all three of them got out in a drunken state. One of them fled the scene. Why would you run and leave your friend dying on the street?"
Harvey said Jordan did not see what "immediately transpired between the assailant and the victim" because he was still in the car. He added that Jordan was not out drinking with Schellenger and the other man prior to picking them up in his car.
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who lives three houses away from Schellenger in Point Breeze, led a vigil for him at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Concert Garden at 21st and Ellsworth Streets, the area where they both live. Dozens of friends, coworkers, and neighbors packed the garden — one that Schellenger helped support — to praise the man who gave them a chance at a job, who paid a bill for them or fixed something in their homes, and who helped to build the community they shared.
"I love him like I birthed him," said Patricia Strickland, 72, who lived on the block with Schellenger and became a second mother to him.
Greg Basile, a friend from Radnor, was among the group of friends with Schellenger at Rouge, a restaurant on the east side of Rittenhouse Square, the night he died.
"He's such a kind soul and such a gentleman," Basile said, as he entered the garden to mourn with others. "He touched so many people. Everyone he met he had a connection with."
The Rev. J. Darrell Robinson spoke to the crowd with compassionate words. "We're going to pray for all the families involved in the situation," he said.
Earlier in the evening, White's family and friends and religious leaders organized a prayer vigil for Schellenger and a candle-lighting for White at Beacon Community Center, 57th Street and Lancaster Avenue.
White is being held at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFCF). Lawyers from around the country have offered to represent him for free, Thompson said. Public defender Geoffrey Kilroy was assigned to White's case. He met with White on Sunday but declined to comment.
Thompson said Kilroy told White that he "was going to see to it that the truth will come out in court."