DJ Henry's Best Friend Remembers a Night 'That Changed My Life in Under a Minute'
April 20, 2011
By Vicki-Ann Downing
Taunton Daily Gazette
Handcuffed and bleeding, his left arm burning from a bullet wound, Brandon Cox sat in a police cruiser six months ago today, chaos unfolding around him.
Minutes earlier, he had been sitting in the front passenger seat of a Nissan Altima beside his best friend, Danroy "DJ" Henry, when a police officer from suburban Westchester County, New York, responding to a reported disturbance outside a college bar, landed on the vehicle's hood and opened fire through the windshield, hitting Cox and fatally striking Henry in the chest and right arm.
As Cox waited early that Sunday morning, first in the cruiser and later for his parents to arrive at the hospital, he was not sure what had happened to his former football teammate at Oliver Ames High School.
"The doctors were very kind to me and reassuring," Cox said. "I was trying to stay calm and hoping for the best. No one told me. I kind of suspected."
The death of DJ Henry on Oct. 17 in Mount Pleasant, N.Y., resonated across the country. More than 2,000 people attended his memorial service in Boston. A grand jury was convened in New York to consider criminal charges against the police officers. The U.S. Department of Justice agreed to review the evidence. Henry's name became familiar to newspaper readers and television viewers.
For Brandon Cox, the loss was much more personal.
"My whole life changed in under a minute," said Cox. "It'll just never be the same. I can't just pick up the phone and give him a call. In the summer, he wasn't even five minutes away. I can't just drive down the street and go see him and share the things with him that I shared before."
"I want people to know what a great kid he was, what a great friend he was," Cox said. "He didn't deserve any of this. It's really hard to cope with."
‘Took away my best friend'
Cox turned 21 this month. He is a junior studying education at Stonehill College. He rises early every morning for football practice and student-teaches once a week in a third-grade classroom at the George Elementary School in Brockton.
Stonehill is where Cox sought refuge after the shooting. With TV crews parked outside his Easton home and satellite trucks lining the Henry family's street, Cox escaped to his dorm room.
He didn't go to classes for two weeks, and because of the injury to his arm, couldn't play or practice football.
"I was just in my room kind of keeping to myself," Cox said. "It's hard to know what to do after something like that. You never feel right doing the things you usually do. It knocks you off your routine."
He returned to classes because he realized "me just staying in my room sulking is not going to bring him back."
"I kind of wish I had the luxury of taking even more time off," Cox said. "I had worked so hard that semester already. This officer took away my best friend. He scarred me for life. I didn't want him to take anything else from me."
The circumstances of the shooting remain in dispute. Police Officer Aaron Hess, named "Officer of the Year" last week by his police union, claims Henry ignored his orders to stop driving and headed directly at him, knocking Hess onto the car hood. Police contend that Henry, 20, was drunk at the time.
Henry's family says Henry was leaving the shopping center as instructed by police when Hess stepped off a curb in front of his car, putting himself in harm's way. They say evidence from Henry's friends that night indicated he was not impaired and was their designated driver.
Cox said he cannot discuss details of the case because of the ongoing Justice Department investigation. But he says the killing has shaken his faith in law enforcement.
"I didn't expect to ever be shot at, and even less to be shot at by police," Cox said.
"They're here to serve and protect. I feel like they were the ones we needed to be saved from that night."
A college weekend
Cox and Henry met in high school and quickly became best friends. Last summer, they worked out together at a local gym, training for football.
"He had a great house for just hanging out and doing stuff," Cox said. "A pool in the back yard. A basement with video games and movies. A pool table. They are great people to be around and welcome you anytime. Everyone wanted to come over. They'd fix dinner for you."
The October weekend in New York was typical of their friendship. Henry's team, Pace, was playing Cox's team, Stonehill, during Pace's Homecoming Weekend. Stonehill won, 27-0. Cox said he didn't tease Henry too much about it.
After the game, Cox and his mother and stepfather, Donna and Tom Parks, who are teachers in Boston, and his 16-year-old twin sisters, Imani and Taylor, ate at Lucio's Pizzeria in Plesantville with Henry and his parents, Dan and Angella, and Henry's sister Amber, now 16.
When dinner was over, Cox and Henry left together for Henry's townhouse dormitory at Pace. Amber Henry joined Cox's family for an overnight in a hotel near Times Square in New York City. Dan and Angella Henry drove home to Easton.
The night, which ended for Henry and Cox outside Finnegan's Grill in Thornwood, was a typical one for college students. There were parties on the Pace campus for homecoming.
"It was a fun time," Cox said. "We hadn't seen each other in awhile. He was just showing me around, introducing me to people. ... DJ was never in any kind of trouble. Any friend of DJ's is a friend of mine."
The Henrys were home in Easton only a few hours when they were called back to Westchester Medical Center. Their son Kyle, 18, made the drive with them.
Cox joined the Henry family in the hospital room to see his friend one last time.
"I went in to see DJ, to say my goodbyes," Cox said. "It kind of cemented it that he was gone."
‘A higher standard'
Today, "I try not to be angry," Cox said. "I can't say there haven't been times I'm not filled with anger. I don't know Officer Hess. I don't know what he's been through or what kind of person he is. I know he did something wrong and I know that he knows it.
"We're supposed to hold police officers to a higher standard. Our society needs that structure. To be in a position to hold that structure, you have to be accountable. If you can't be, you don't deserve to hold that position."
Cox said he finds the silence from the police frustrating.
"It's despicable," Cox said. "You have police who won't, for a better word, man up. To me it's cowardly. I'm a God-fearing man, so I kind of put it in his hands and get rid of the anger.
"An injustice was done here. We know it. DJ's family knows it. The rest of the country knows it and we're just going to keep fighting until justice is served."
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