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10 years after a police officer killed DJ Henry, his mom says "it's heartbreaking to see that nothing has changed"

Mom of DJ Henry: "Nothing has changed"
Mom of DJ Henry: "Nothing has changed" 05:55

Across the country, people know the names of black people killed by police officers: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. But the sobering list is so much longer than that, and it includes a young man named Danroy "DJ" Henry.

"Ten years ago, we lost our son in the street — handcuffed. And here we are, 10 years later, George Floyd dies in the street, being handcuffed," DJ's mom, Angella Henry, told CBS News special correspondent James Brown. "And it's heartbreaking to see that nothing has changed."

Dan and Angella Henry never imagined what would happen to their oldest son.

"We sent him off to college to play football, and he never came home," Dan Henry said. DJ was a junior playing football for Pace University in New York in 2010.

Angella described him as a "joy" and a "pied piper in the neighborhood." 

"All of the kids loved him," she said.

In the early morning hours of October 17, 2010, they were startled awake with the devastating news that their 20-year-old son was shot to death in his car.

"I remember just falling to my knees," Dan said. 

"And I said, 'Who would shoot him?'" Angella recalled.

Dan called the police and said he was floored by what he said he was told — that DJ was trying to run over a police officer and the officer had to shoot him to stop him.

"Something had to have happened if that happened. Like, what caused him to do something that's so outside of his character?" Dan said.

DJ was out celebrating at a sports bar with his teammates when other patrons got into a fight. Police said that DJ was parked in a fire lane out front and when he was asked to move, he sped toward officer Aaron Hess, propelling him on the hood and, police said, forcing him to shoot DJ. 

"The effort clearly was to villainize our son. It was to make him seem like a criminal thug that needed to be stopped," Dan said.

Police dashcam video shows DJ lying in the road.

"We were in the Wild, Wild West. That's what it felt like," said Desmond Hinds, one of DJ's friends who was in the car that night. 

Hinds said that Hess began shooting at them unprovoked. "We weren't doing anything wrong," he said. 

"They shot him, took him out of his car, handcuffed him, made him stand up, and then laid him on the ground and left him there by himself," Dan said. "As he died alone with his hands cuffed behind his back."

In a deposition, Hess maintained he thought his life was in danger when he made the split-second decision to shoot into the car.  

"I only reacted to what I thought, that I was going to be killed," he said. 

He insisted that race was not a factor and claimed he couldn't see through the windshield.

"I saw a silhouette. I didn't physically see a driver," he said. 

Dan said Hess "presented himself as a person who was utterly reckless in that moment."

"Whether he did that because DJ was black and DJ's friends were black, we don't know," he said.

Hess was not charged with any crime and his union later named him Officer of the Year. They said the award wasn't meant to be public.

"They wanted to do that privately to boost Aaron Hess' morale," Angella said. 

"Because he had been through a lot. Because he had been through a lot," Dan said.

Asked where they are in their grieving process, Angella said, "In some ways, it's the day. … There are moments when it feels as if I've just received a phone call that our son has been killed. And that's painful."

"It's an unfillable hole," said Dan. "And it's unfortunate now the Floyd family will begin that, you know, the realization of that journey as we have."

Angella said she thinks Floyd's death has sparked something different. 

"We've seen peaceful protests in every state in this country. We've seen people come together in other countries. I think the fact that his death was caught on film has more people enraged and has opened their eyes," she said.

Dan added that "hopefully" the coronavirus lockdowns over the past few months have "made people think about humanity and what it means to be a part of a civil society."

In spite of their pain, the Henrys are proactive. Dan plans to testify before Congress to push for laws that hold police more accountable and their hopes lie with the next generation of young people, including their two other kids, Kyle and Amber.

"Now as they've gotten older, they're able to verbalize more how they've been hurt from losing their brother," Angella said.

"Yeah, they're marching with Danny's name. They're speaking at protests," Dan said. "And we say to them in some ways their lives are lived in protest."

Dan said he hopes people are mad right now. 

"We're angry. Their anger is no different than our anger," he said. "Because, look, we sit at the dinner table now to an empty place setting. … That's our reality and it's been our reality for the last 10 years."

In 2011, the Henrys set up the DJ Henry Dream Fund to provide scholarships for children in Massachusetts to participate in community-based athletics, wellness, arts and summer camps. 

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