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Danroy Henry's Memory Foremost for Pace University, Loss Is Secondary

Oct 30, 2010 – 7:27 PM
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Joe Lapointe

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PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y. -- While Pace University football players warmed up to resume their football season Saturday afternoon, the speaker system at the Setters' intimate home field played the usual sports anthems.

They included "Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen ("... they pass you by ...'') and "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses ("... I wanna watch you bleed!").

But not all music Saturday was part of the common playlist. It had been two weeks since cornerback Danroy Henry died from police bullets in a car in a restaurant parking lot after Pace's homecoming game.

So a new tune was added Saturday by a man wearing kilts and carrying bagpipes. He walked onto the field after the national anthem and played "Amazing Grace," a hymn of redemption and forgiveness in a time of deep despair.

Once the game began, New Haven (8-1) scored a solid 58-19 victory over Pace (0-7). But afterward, Henry's teammates seemed buoyed by the chance to play together again in a game he loved after canceling the previous one to mourn.

Pace senior running back Jason Washington said he dedicated his touchdown on a kickoff return to Henry and was so energized during his 95-yard run that he could not remember any details.

And senior linebacker Jonfrey Sanchez seemed emotionally moved by a postgame ceremony during which players, fans and cheerleaders gathered on the 12-yard line in honor of Henry's number 12.

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"Come together," Sanchez said he told the gathering. "Come as close as possible, right on the 12." The cluster of about 100 persons held in their hands bright balloons colored white or blue.

After the players chanted "1-2-3" and shouted "D.J.!" everyone let go of their balloons and watched them drift up in the breeze high over the green hillside on the far sideline and over the gold and red leaves of the trees into the blue sky.

"I kind of envisioned him flying with his wings, the white balloons symbolizing peace," Sanchez said. "It was something beautiful."

Much has been made of the angel wings tattooed on the back of Henry, a junior from Massachusetts whose death has provoked a major investigation over differing details provided by police and eyewitnesses.

Some fans sitting in the small bleacher section wore tee shirts in his honor. Three girls wore school hoodies with "R.I.P., DJ Henry" added to their backs.

On the first play from scrimmage, with Pace on defense, the Setters took the field with only 10 players, one short of the usual 11, with Henry's position vacant.

New Haven, aware of the tribute, ran the ball for a one-yard gain. Then the referee called an official timeout so players could regroup at the sideline and play the rest of the game at full strength.

Henry's name appeared in bold-face type on the roster. The game program had his picture in two places and an inscription by one that said "Rest in Peace, Love and Paradise."

On Friday, instead of practicing, the team and many students had traveled to Boston for a memorial service honoring Henry on what would have been his 21st. birthday.

Eric Ortega, a senior wide receiver who caught two touchdown passes for Pace Saturday, said "You can't explain these emotions and what is going through your heart and your head. It hurt."

Ortega said he and Henry used to share information on the sideline as scouts for each other.

Ortega would try to detect tips to plays from opposing receivers and give advice to Henry on how to cover them. Henry would scout opposing cornerbacks in the same way for Ortega.

"It was difficult for me," Ortega said of Saturday without Henry. "You get used to the routine."

School officials supervised the news conference after the game and refused to allow players to answer questions about the shooting, which occurred at about 1:20 a.m. on Oct. 17, because they may testify in court.

Police said Henry hit two officers with his car and they shot him when they felt threatened. Henry's friends said he merely moved his car when told to do so by police.

Several agencies are investigating and Henry's lawyer has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to take over the case because, he said, he cannot count on the credibility of local police investigating at least two local officers who fired guns.

The officers are white; Henry was black; his lawyer is a specialist in civil rights law. But not much was said about those specifics Saturday; most words were about spirituality.

Chris Dapolito, the first-year head coach of Pace, had said at Friday's memorial that Henry had given his teammates "the most expensive and precious gift he could possibly give -- the gift of sorrow at the expense of his life."

After Saturday's game, junior defensive back David Lopez said "D.J. was on my side. He was out there with us. He was there."
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