WESTWEGO, La. – Chris Henry's fiancee wept as she spoke about the Cincinnati Bengals receiver at his funeral Tuesday, and she said while she may have helped steer him out of trouble, he changed her life.
Henry, 26, was killed after he fell out of a pickup truck bed being driven by his fiance Loleini Tonga during what police described as a domestic dispute. Police are investigating, but no charges have been filed.
"Can't nobody feel what I'm feeling right now. ... We loved each other very much. People say I helped change his life. No. He changed mine," said Tonga, wearing sunglasses and pausing between sentences. "We were supposed to get married in three months, but I'm going to wait until I see him again."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Henry's teammates were among the hundreds who packed the New Orleans Hornets practice facility for the funeral. The Bengals wore round lapels with Henry's No. 15. Many others wore red ribbons with a small photo of Henry that read: "In loving memory" and "Chris 'Slim' Henry."
Goodell said everyone makes mistakes.
"His future as a husband and a father were important to him," Goodell said. "He was a young man that struggled, made some decisions that he regretted, but he put himself on the right path. And I'm proud of that. I'm proud of him."
Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer and head coach Marvin Lewis were expected to deliver eulogies. Lewis said before the service that Henry touched a lot of people in his very short life.
"It's a bright story and one that didn't get to get all the way to the end of it which is the most unfortunate part," the coach said. "We'll miss Chris' sparkling smile."
Henry grew up in the small, suburban community of Belle Chasse. Shane Shelley, 26, was Henry's high school QB when they made it to the state title game in 2001, their senior year.
"It's a sad day for Belle Chasse. We really lost a good friend, a brother, one of my best friends," said a watery-eyed Shelley. "It's hard. We lost one of us. We're going to miss him. We love him."
Henry died Thursday, a day after he fell out of the truck in North Carolina, where he had been recovering from a broken forearm that ended his season. Police said Henry and his fiancee got into an argument at the Tonga family home and she drove away on a curvy residential street near downtown Charlotte. Henry jumped into the truck's bed.
A witness has said he heard Henry say, "If you take off, I'm going to jump off the truck and kill myself." A 911 caller told a dispatcher she saw a shirtless man wearing a cast "beating on the back of this truck window."
Police said Tonga stopped to assist Henry when he fell about a half-mile from the home.
Tonga was flanked by family at the visitation and received hugs by those filing by Henry's open casket. Tonga and Henry had been raising three kids.
Henry's football career had been marred by off-the-field problems, beginning when played college ball at West Virginia. His troubles continued during a five-year NFL career. He was suspended five times for arrests ranging from weapons charges to drugs.
The Bengals said Henry had turned his life around this season and showed a renewed focus on his football career. A thigh injury slowed him early in the season, but he had 12 catches for 236 yards. His 19.7-yard average per catch led the team before he broke his left forearm during a win last month over Baltimore.
Henry dreamed of playing in the NFL, but after he was ejected from a game and suspended for another at West Virginia, the Bengals were the only team to bring him in for a pre-draft visit in 2005.
Selected in the third round, Henry played a vital role as a speedy, deep threat as Cincinnati reached the playoffs in his rookie season. But in the final month of the season he was arrested for marijuana possession.
"The Chris Henry I knew was a good quiet young man, wasn't a troublemaker," said Shelley, his high school friend. "That's what everybody needs to know. He was a good man, a good father."