DJ Henry, Remembered

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Pace University football player and Easton native DJ Henry by a Pleasantville, New York, police officer. Last month, I wrote a Boston magazine story about the Henry family’s public grief, and while the article focused on DJ’s family, there was another part of the story we didn’t have space to tell: the story of the four Pace football players who were arrested as they rushed to aid their dying friend.

Yesterday those players, along with three other friends, announced their lawsuit against various members of the police department, claiming through their attorney that they “were brutalized, beaten, falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted.”

In my reporting for the magazine story, I spoke with several people who were with DJ Henry the night he died. But it was the team’s blond, Louisiana-born quarterback, Joseph Romanick, whose story moved me most. When I reached him by phone on the seven-month anniversary of DJ’s death, his voice cracked as he recalled his second family — the three teammates, including DJ, who never missed a meal together in the school cafeteria, where they would sit for hours talking trash about the others’ home teams. After DJ died, he said, “I couldn’t go into the cafeteria for two months without crying.”

But toward the end of our conversation, Romanick’s voice lifted at the memory of a game when everything was different. It was the week before that tragic Homecoming weekend, and the Pace team had traveled to Worcester to play Assumption College.

“Assumption was pretty much the best team in the conference,” he said. “And we had had a pretty rough week of practice. We had a couple kids quit, a couple kids got suspended because they showed up late. So we knew we had to step up our game.”

As far back as Romanick could remember, DJ would tell him before each game that this was the game in which he was going to make his interception. That day, he seemed even more determined. “He was like, ‘I’m getting it today, Rome! I’m getting it today!” Romanick said.

“And Assumption started driving down the field and they threw a comeback, and it was one of those things when you’re standing in the sidelines and you have doubt in your mind, and you’re like, ‘Oh man, they’re driving, they’re driving.’ And DJ just makes an incredible play, intercepts the ball, and changes the momentum of the game. I’ll never forget it. The sideline went crazy. He got up, and he was screaming and encouraging the other players to go, saying we were still in the game.”

A week later, DJ Henry played his final football game, another loss in a difficult season. Hours after that, he lay handcuffed and dying on a sidewalk in a strip mall, 200 miles from home. There is no going back to change what happened that night, but Joseph Romanick will always remember the time when DJ Henry’s future looked so bright — the game in which he soared.

“Everybody went nuts,” he said. “I threw my helmet. I’ll never forget it.”