BOSTON The attorney for the family of a Massachusetts college student shot and killed by local police in New York state is again calling for more scrutiny of the investigation. Attorney Michael Sussman says Danroy “D.J.” Henry Jr.’s car wasn’t properly protected after the shooting and that crucial gun powder evidence was gone by the time forensic evidence experts inspected the vehicle. Sussman is demanding the Justice Department take over the investigation.
On Friday his family will eulogize D.J. at an atypical place — the Boston Convention Center. It’s the only place they could rent that would accommodate all of the people they expect to come.
In high school, D.J. Henry avoided soda, fast food and alcohol. He worked out twice a day. He said his body was his temple.
“He didn’t want to drink because he loved football so much,” said Nick Barrows, one of D.J.’s football teammates at Oliver Ames High School. “This is a guy who, after lifting at the high school, he’d go home and lift, he’d go home and run.”
Barrows says D.J. was just as meticulous about his appearance as he was about fitness. “To tell the truth, I was always a little jealous of D.J.’s dress,” he admitted.
Taylor Pettiford also grew up with D.J. “You know, he always had his hat and his shirts and his sneakers color-coordinated,” he said. “You could tell he was sitting there the night before school, he was eying his clothes so there was no wrinkles in them. And he tied his shoe laces so they’d both fall at the same length.”
His friends say he wasn’t vain, he just wanted to be perfect, and part of that came from a desire to impress his parents, especially his father.
“You see his father, his father’s an upstanding black man. And that’s what D.J. wanted to be, an upstanding black man,” Barrows said. “Look at the house that they live in. The first thing that they do is they hug each other and he gives them a big kiss, that’s what their father does, he goes up and he hugs his father and he kisses him on the cheek. Of course he admired him.”
D.J.’s father is a corporate executive for a large childcare company. He and his wife hosted D.J.’s friends most weekends while they were in high school. Barrows joked about how wholesome the Henry family was — they played boardgames and took family portraits. Barrows called them the Cosbys. He says D.J. never wanted to let his parents down.
Barrows tells a story about one time after high school. A mutual friend made an offer to D.J. The friend was working for a store, and he asked D.J. to come in and steal some stuff. Here’s what the friend said, according to Barrows: “Don’t worry, I got you, I work here, no one’s going to find out and we’ll split it.”
“Absolutely not,” is how Barrows remembers D.J.’s response. “What if my father found out? What if my mother found out? And then my parents see me in legal trouble? That would break their heart.”
So instead of D.J. doing it, Barrows says, he did. And Barrows got caught and had to face the repercussions.
But D.J.’s mother, Angella Henry, says her son wasn’t always that confident. “When we went to parent-teacher conferences, they would say, ‘He’s a great kid, he works hard but, he may lose points for not speaking up, for not participating in class,’ ” Henry said.
“He wasn’t a loud and rowdy person,” she said, “but when he was with people that he was comfortable with, he told lots of jokes, he made us laugh, he did imitations, he did silly dances.”
D.J. started to come out of his shell during his senior year. That was around the same time he started playing first string on his high-school football team. There was a new coach that year, and according to him, D.J. introduced himself and said, “I want to play football in college. I want you to make me a better player.”
“To me, a high-school football player is really defined by their heart and their desire,” said coach Jim Artz. “And D.J. was well in abundance of heart and desire and attitude. He came out here every day, trying to get better, came out here doing all the little things and working tremendously hard, tremendously hard to be the kind of player he wanted to be.”
The problem was D.J. was younger than the rest of the team. He wasn’t as big or as strong as the rest of the players. Recruiters weren’t paying attention to him. So D.J. decided to play for a prep school for a year to put on muscle. It worked.
The next year a small college in New York signed him onto their team, but they soon ended their football program. Pace University swept in and recruited him for its team.
His mother said D.J. was intensely committed to football, but he was also committed to being a good person. He “never, never” got in trouble, she said. “He had one ticket for not having a seat belt on. But he was never in trouble. There were times he would drive us crazy, but that’s what teenagers do. But no, he was good.”
Two weeks ago, D.J. played during Pace University’s homecoming game. His parents came down for the game and it turned out to be the last time they saw him. He was shot and killed that night.