Friends Ask How Promising Athlete Was Fatally Shot
NEW YORK – It seemed impossible that Danroy "D.J." Henry's life would end this way.
He was a quiet teenager from a close family who embraced his dad in full view of his friends. An ambitious athlete who lifted weights after practice was over. A generous football player who gave away protective gear to an injured teammate.
Friends said he had never been suspended, never been arrested.
Yet on Wednesday, those who loved Henry were left trying to make sense of how the 20-year-old Pace University student had ended up dead hours after playing in the school's homecoming game, struck by a burst of police gunfire through his windshield as he pulled away from the scene of a fight.
Suddenly, his family was left worried about his legacy.
A call to the Henry home went straight to a recording that implored, "Just let everyone know he's not the kind of person that they're going to try to make him out to be."
High school friend Brendon Genesis Waters described Henry as "the most peaceful person ever." So quiet that Waters would poke fun at him for it, Henry eventually came out of his shell but remained "a really good kid" from "what I would call a perfect family," Waters said.
He remembers watching Henry cut short a basketball game with friends when his father pulled up after returning from a business trip. The boy and his father ran toward each other and hugged. It was enough to make Waters cry.
"I just, you know, I don't have a family like that, so I just broke down," he said. "It was such an honor to see the way they just really loved each other."
Henry's family said in a statement Tuesday that it had retained a civil rights lawyer and was determined to uncover the truth about what happened in the early hours of Sunday.
"While we had been assured of an objective investigation, we are deeply troubled by the various and conflicting accounts reported of the incident that led to our son's tragic passing," the statement said.
Police say Henry sped off, hitting two officers, after a policeman knocked on his window as his car sat parked in a fire lane outside a bar. The father of Brandon Cox, another high school friend who was in town for the football game and was in Henry's car, denies that an officer was hit and claims Henry thought he was following police instructions. Amateur video from after the shooting appears to show an unruly crowd, with people screaming and someone trying to revive a person on the ground.
The family's statement said Henry had nothing to do with the fight that drew police to the scene and that he was there to pick up friends. It said the family had heard reports that Henry, who initially was handcuffed, was left without medical attention for several minutes after being shot.
Henry had never been one to get into trouble, Waters said. The pair, who had hung out daily in high school, talked on the phone every week or two in college. Henry never spoke of wild parties or tensions with police, Waters said. Instead, it was all football. Waters never even found out his friend's major.
"His work ethic was unbelievable," Waters said. "Even after practice he would want to work out. He just really worked hard."
Henry's goal in life — to become a professional football player — seemed unlikely, but his focus and determination made Waters a believer.
"He was one of the best, if not the best athlete on the team," said Pace football coach Chris Dapolito, calling the starting cornerback "everything you wanted a player to be."
Senior running back Jonfrey Sanchez said Henry showed "relentless effort" and fought through injuries. He was the heart of the team, Sanchez said, giving several players mohawk haircuts as a sign of unity and encouragement shortly before his death. Another player, Jason Washington, said Henry had given him his rib guards when Washington was hurt.
Henry's Twitter page displayed an image of the angel wings he had tattooed across his back, and the quotations posted on his Facebook profile hinted that he may have spent some time, even at his age, thinking of what might follow his death: "I would rather be a prince in your kingdom then a king in this lifetime," one said. Another said: "what we do in life echoes in eternity."
State and local police and the Westchester County district attorney are investigating the shooting, including the role of the officers who fired at the car after being called to a disturbance that spilled out of a restaurant near Pace in Thornwood, about 25 miles north of New York City. The officers have been identified as Pleasantville Officer Aaron Hess and Mount Pleasant Officer Ronald Beckley.
Though police in general may use deadly force to protect themselves from the same, Mount Pleasant police Chief Louis Alagno said he wasn't aware of any written protocol that tells officers what to do after they've been run down by a car.
Whatever happened, "a fine young man is gone," said Mike Yurof, Henry's coach during his first three years of high school. "To know that D.J. and Brandon Cox were in a car and they were being shot at — you could give me 1,000 guesses of former players of mine and those two wouldn't even be on the list."
James Artz, who coached Henry during his senior year at Oliver Ames High School in North Easton, Mass., echoed his predecessor: "Both these kids, if my sons grew up like them I'd be very blessed. Just two outstanding young men. And just never, ever, ever was there a character issue. Ever. They were just two absolute role models."
Associated Press writers Jim Fitzgerald in Thornwood, N.Y., and Russell Contreras in Boston contributed to this report.