Family, Interrupted

By Katherine Ozment | Boston Magazine |

At that moment, Cox’s family was on the way from the hotel to the hospital. They had Amber in the car with them. Angella had called Cox’s mother, Donna Parks, during the drive from Massachusetts to tell her DJ had died. “What happened to Danny?” Amber kept asking everyone in the car. “Is Danny okay?” Parks didn’t speak, feeling the answers had to come from the girl’s mother.

When they got to the hospital, Angella walked toward Amber in the waiting area and explained what had happened. “We need to say goodbye to Danny now,” she told her daughter. She led her to him, saying, “He doesn’t look the same.”

“My mom said, ‘Tell him something; tell him you love him,’” recalls Amber. “I was so confused. I took his hand lightly and I said, ‘I love you.’ That was it.”

Before leaving the hospital, the Henrys spoke with an injured Cox, who had also been taken to Westchester Medical Center. The story he told them about the shooting didn’t fit with the early police reports they’d heard. The family then drove to the Pace campus. In DJ’s dorm room, friends repeated what Cox had said: that DJ hadn’t done anything wrong. As the Henrys were getting ready to depart, the university’s dean of students informed them that the Mount Pleasant chief of police, Louis Alagno, was holding a press conference that morning. Dan and Angella were astonished. The chief had yet to even speak to them. They drove to the police station, where Alagno promised a full investigation. When one of the officers held out his hand to Kyle and asked the teenager to trust him, Kyle refused to take it. The Henrys drove home in silence.

When they pulled into their driveway, they were surrounded by reporters taking pictures and shouting questions. The news that DJ, an African American, had been shot to death by a white police officer had set off a national media frenzy. But to the family, the grief was intensely personal. “Do we have to do this now?” Kyle yelled at a cameraman.

For the next two weeks, reporters and camera crews showed up outside the Henry home before dawn and didn’t leave until close to midnight. The family huddled inside, sleeping together for the first few nights on their living room couches.

When Amber later tried to resume staying in her own room, it would get so bright with TV lights by 4 a.m. that she took to sleeping on Kyle’s bedroom floor.

DAN AND ANGELLA quickly realized that the press wasn’t going away. And it seemed that only one side of the story was getting out — especially since Mount Pleasant police were implying that DJ was responsible for the sequence of events that led to him being shot.

So the Henrys decided it was time for the public to hear another version of what had happened. One day, Dan picked up a tray of cookies and walked outside to speak with the reporters standing in his front yard. Soon both he and Angella were appearing regularly on TV and radio, fighting back tears as they questioned police accounts of that night. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton both offered to get involved, but the family quietly declined, preferring to keep race out of their campaign to learn the truth about DJ’s shooting.

What they did do was hire a New York civil rights attorney, Michael Sussman, to help them fight for access to video footage of that night from surveillance cameras, as well as audio recordings of 911 calls. They also wanted to know why DJ’s cell phone had been used twice without their permission after his death for what the phone company termed a “data download.”

  • maureen

    Thank you Katherine Ozment for this wonderful piece, you did a fabulous job of capturing the essence of this family.

  • Snowmama

    My heart continues to break for this family, and shocking turn of events in the lives of DJ and the wonderful young college students and patrons trying to save his life. I am furious that the actions of one cop can so alter the lives of so many kids. It’s disgraceful also how the state of NY has treated this grieving family, absolutely disgraceful!

  • J

    …but I pray you find peace in knowing that this was not just about DJ but for all the families you have experienced loss of their children in the hands of that silent “blue” wall.

  • Patricia

    This was a great article and portrayal of the Henry family. Our prayers continue to go out for them as they heal from this tragedy. I pray God grants them the peace they desire in knowing the absolute truth. Blessings all of them.

  • nora

    Dan and Angella Henry have shown remarkable strength, grace and restraint during this tragedy. It is difficult to grieve privately yet keep this story in the public eye in an effort to find the truth

  • Lori

    Thank you Boston Magazine for this piece. So well done, and so important. The horrible wrong can’t be undone, but major media staying focused on this story may lead to justice and some degree of peace and closure for the Henry family. They need our help. Thank you for this story.