Receiver Chris Henry's death stuns Bengals
Shocked Cincinnati Bengals players huddled in their locker room Thursday once they got word that teammate Chris Henry had died at a hospital in Charlotte, N.C.
The players said a group prayer, then went out on the Paul Brown Stadium field to walk through some of their plays for Sunday's game in San Diego.
No one said much.
"It was tough," receiver Andre Caldwell said. "We were crying."
Henry died at 6:36 a.m. yesterday, a day after falling out of the back of a pickup truck during what police said was a domestic dispute with his fiancee. Henry was 26.
During his career, Henry was arrested five times on charges that included a gun violation and marijuana possession. He was also suspended five times by the NFL since being drafted in the third round out of West Virginia in 2005.
When Henry was arrested for a fifth time following the 2007 season on an assault charge, the Bengals decided they'd had enough. At his arraignment on April 3, 2008, Municipal Court Judge Bernie Bouchard called Henry "a one-man crime wave." He was released by the Bengals the same day.
But Bengals owner Mike Brown — who refers to himself as "a redeemer" — changed his mind and gave Henry yet another chance.
"We knew him in a different way than his public persona," Brown said "He had worked through the troubles in his life and had finally seemingly reached the point where everything was going to blossom.
"It's painful to us. We feel it in our hearts."
Authorities have not announced the cause of death, but police spokeswoman Rosalyn Harrington said homicide detectives have been assigned to the case.
Later yesterday, police released two 911 tapes. The first was from an unidentified woman who said she was following a yellow pickup truck.
"It's got a black man on it with no shirt on, and he's got his arm in a cast and black pants on," she told a dispatcher. "He's beating on the back of this truck window. ... I don't know if he's trying to break in or something. It just looks crazy. It's a girl driving it."
Just over a minute later, an unidentified man called 911 and said he saw a man "laying in the road" and "definitely unconscious."
Henry was engaged to Loleini Tonga, and the couple had been raising three children. Tonga's MySpace page identifies herself as "Mrs. C. Henry" and has a picture of her next to a person who appears to be Henry. She also has a post from Tuesday talking about buying wedding rings.
The Bengals will wear a commemorative No. 15 sticker on their helmets Sunday to remember Henry.
Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco blinked back tears welling in his eyes when he remembered how he'd talked to Henry on Tuesday night, catching up on things. Henry had been in Charlotte, where his fiancee's parents live, recovering from a broken arm that ended his season Nov. 8.
"He was doing everything right," Ochocinco said. "My grandma always says you never question the man upstairs on decisions he makes. Everyone makes mistakes, but I don't see how Chris was supposed to go already, especially when he was on the right path."
Ochocinco wore Henry's white No. 15 practice jersey for an afternoon workout that started in a somber mood — no joking, no laughing, hardly any talking — as players stretched.
When they learned of Henry's death, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer called the players together and suggested they dedicate the rest of the season to the receiver.
"Carson spoke about one thing — that Chris was a great competitor," said Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko, who often had Henry and his family over to his house. "What he would want us to do is go out and win, not be sad. You're going to go through these times and be sad, but to pull together and dedicate the rest of the season to Chris."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2006, spoke about Henry's death.
"It's a scary thing," he said. "I don't know what it'd be like to lose a teammate, and I don't know what it'd be like if (my) teammates lost me. It's a tough thing. My heart goes out to the family and his temmates.''
Steelers receiver Hines Ward said he saw "great talent" in Henry.
"If this kid continued to grow and mature, he was going to be a great one," Ward said. "To lose a guy at our position, we're all saddened by it.
"I didn't know him well. I knew of him, watched him play at West Virginia and, of course, saw him twice a year (against the Steelers). I just thought he was a great talent. He was starting to come around and make plays, and, unfortunately, he broke his arm. Any time you lose somebody that's in this business, it's definitely a loss to everybody."
What they're saying ...
"We knew him in a different way than his public persona. He had worked through the troubles in his life and had finally seemingly reached the point where everything was going to blossom. And he was going to have the future we all wanted for him. It's painful to us. We feel it in our hearts, and we will miss him." — Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown.
"Chris was a guy that I believe and our team believes was heavily misunderstood. There was a lot of speculation about who he was, but the only guys that knew Chris and knew how good of a heart he had, how kind he was, how gentle he was, how soft of a heart he had, were the guys in our locker room, the guys who were close to him, his family." — Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer.
"I just talked to Chris, Tuesday night. Tuesday night he called me to see how I was doing based off of last Sunday's game. I told him I was good. We talked before every game and he'd tell me to go out there and handle my business. He was doing everything right, he was doing everything right. My grandma always says you never question the man upstairs on decisions he makes. Everyone makes mistakes, but I don't see how Chris was supposed to go already, especially when he was on the right path. Other than that, he's going to be missed. — Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocino.
"I just pray for his mom and his family and for Loleini's family also. Only they know what really happened. All I know is we lost Chris." — Defensive lineman Domata Peko, one of Henry's closest friends on team.
"We are greatly saddened by today's tragic news about the loss of Chris Henry. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chris' family, including his Bengals family. We have been in contact with the Bengals to offer our support through this difficult time." — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"The NFL Players Association is deeply saddened by the news of Chris Henry's passing this morning. We were all shocked and dismayed to hear of this horrific tragedy. Chris was a fine player, but more importantly a fine person. On behalf of all NFL players, we would like to express our deepest condolences to his family, friends and all of the fans he inspired across the country." — NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.
"I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Chris Henry. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his fiancee, children and their families as they deal with this sudden and tragic loss. I enjoyed our time together at West Virginia and we shared a lot of great moments. I have many fond memories of our three years together and will remember those forever. Chris will be missed by many and he will always have a place in my heart." — Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez, Chris Henry's coach at West Virginia.
"He is in my thoughts, as well as those of his former teammates, right now. We say 'Once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer,' and Chris was a big part of our success during his time here. Our hearts and prayers go out to his mother and family. He will be greatly missed." — West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, who was an assistant when Henry was with the team.
"He came by just before training camp and we had a long talk. It really seemed he was headed in a new direction. I told him he had to do better. We talked about making sure he was hanging around the right people and was aware of the situation around him. It seemed like he was making a diligent effort to do well." — Belle Chasse High School coach Bob Becnel. Henry grew up in Belle Chasse, a suburban community south of New Orleans.Additional Information: