Bengals receiver Chris Henry, whose troubled life off the field led to five suspensions during his NFL career, had by all accounts begun to turn his life around.
But early yesterday morning he died of injuries that appeared to have resulted from a domestic dispute after he was thrown from the back of a pickup truck that was being driven by his fiancee, Loleini Tonga, of Charlotte, N.C. Henry was 26.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said Henry died at 6:36 a.m. yesterday.
“He was doing everything right,” Bengals receiver Chad 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.”
Henry had been on injured reserve since suffering a broken forearm during a win against the Ravens on Nov. 8.
“We are greatly saddened by today’s tragic news about the loss of Chris Henry,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chris’ family, including his Bengals family . . . I ask you to keep Chris Henry and his family in your thoughts today.”
Henry was rushed to the hospital Wednesday after being found on a residential road in Charlotte. A 911 call to police indicated that Henry had been in the bed of the pickup truck and was banging on the rear windshield.
Henry was engaged to Tonga, and the couple had been raising three children. Tonga had posted an entry on her MySpace page on Tuesday and talked about buying wedding rings.
Police spokeswoman Rosalyn Harrington said homicide detectives have been assigned to the case but did not elaborate.
“We knew him in a different way than his public persona,” Bengals owner Mike Brown said. “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.”
Henry joined the Bengals in 2005 and helped the team to the playoffs that year. But in the final month of the season, he was arrested for marijuana possession. After a playoff loss to the Steelers, he was arrested on a gun charge in Florida.
Henry was suspended by Goodell for the first eight games of the 2007 season as a result of his multiple violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
The Bengals released him in 2008, but decided to give him another chance and re-signed him.
Henry vowed before the 2009 season to turn his life around.
“He’s a great kid with a great heart,” Palmer said when training camp started. “He’s changed his life around. He ran into some trouble, made some bad decisions, and realized that. He's sorry for them, apologized for them, and has done everything he can to make himself a better person. I'm just proud of him.”