Belcher's death stuns Chiefs, NFL
The Kansas City linebacker allegedly killed his girlfriend before shooting himself in front of the general manager and team coach at practice
It began like any other Saturday for the Kansas City Chiefs during the NFL season, their general manager and coach at work early to put final touches on this weekend's game plan. Then they got a call to hurry to the parking lot.
The two men rushed through the glass doors of Chiefs headquarters and came face-to-face with linebacker Jovan Belcher, holding a handgun to his head.
Belcher had already killed his girlfriend and sped the short distance to Arrowhead Stadium, right past a security checkpoint guarding the entrance. Upon finding his bosses, Belcher thanked general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel for giving him a chance in the NFL. Then he turned away and pulled the trigger.
The murder-suicide shocked a franchise that has been dealing with controversies now made trivial by comparison: eight consecutive losses, injuries too numerous to count, discontent among fans and the prospect that Pioli and Crennel could be fired.
Authorities did not release a possible motive while piecing together the case, other than to note that Belcher and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kasandra M Perkins, had argued frequently. They left behind a three-month-old girl. She was being cared for by family.
The Chiefs issued a statement that said their game this morning (Hong Kong time) against the Carolina Panthers would go on as scheduled, even as the franchise tried to come to grips with the awfulness of Belcher's death.
"The entire Chiefs family is deeply saddened by today's events, and our collective hearts are heavy with sympathy, thoughts and prayers for the families and friends affected by this unthinkable tragedy," Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said.
A spokesman for the team said Crennel would be at the game against the Panthers.
"I can tell you that you have absolutely no idea what it's like to see someone kill themselves," said Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who spoke to Pioli shortly after the shootings.
"You can take your worst nightmare and put someone you know and love in that situation, and give them a gun and stand three feet away and watch them kill themselves. That's what it's like," James said.
Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn told The Kansas City Star that when the team met later on Saturday, Crennel broke the news to them.
"It was obviously tough for coach to have to tell us that," Quinn said. "He really wasn't able to finish talking to us. We got together and prayed and then we moved on."
But Quinn said the team were so stunned, it was hard to digest what had happened.
"It's hard mostly because I keep thinking about what I could have done to stop this," he said. "I think everyone is wondering whether we would have done something to prevent this from happening."
The 25-year-old Belcher was from West Babylon, New York, and played college football at Maine. He signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent, made the team and hung around the past four years, eventually moving into the starting line-up. He played in all 11 games this season.
The NFL released a statement expressing sympathy and pledging "to provide assistance in any way that we can". The players' association has also been in touch with members of the Chiefs.
"We sincerely appreciate the expressions of sympathy and support we have received from so many in the Kansas City and NFL communities, and ask for continued prayers for the loved ones of those impacted," Hunt said. "We will continue to fully co-operate with the authorities and work to ensure that the appropriate counselling resources are available to all members of the organisation."
The drama unfolded early on Saturday when authorities received a call from a woman who said her daughter had been shot multiple times at a residence about eight kilometres from the Arrowhead complex. The call came from Belcher's mother, who referred to the victim as her daughter.
"She treated Kasandra like a daughter," Kansas City police spokesman Darin Snapp said, adding that the woman had recently moved in with the couple, "probably to help out with the baby".
Police then got a phone call from the Chiefs' training facility, and Belcher's description had matched the suspect description from the initial address. Snapp said officers pulled into the practice facility parking lot in a matter of minutes, in time to witness the suicide.
"Pioli and Crennel and another coach or employee was standing outside and appeared to be talking to him," Snapp said. "The suspect began to walk in the opposite direction of the coaches and the officers and that's when they heard the gunshot. It appears he took his own life."
The coaches told police they never felt in any danger.
"They said the player was actually thanking them for everything they'd done for him," Snapp said. "He was thanking them and everything. That's when he walked away and shot himself."
Members of the Chiefs mostly laid low, but a few reacted on Twitter.
"I am devastated by this mornings events," Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali wrote. "I want to send my thoughts and prayers out to everyone effected by this tragedy."
A large group of Belcher's friends and relatives gathered at his boyhood home on Long Island.
His family turned the front yard into a shrine, with a large poster of Belcher, an array of his trophies, and jerseys and jackets from Kansas City, Maine and West Babylon High.
"He was a good, good person ... a family man. A loving guy," said friend Ruben Marshall, who said he coached Belcher in youth football. "You couldn't be around a better person."
At least 20 people gathered for a large group hug in the driveway.
"He was a tremendous player and all those things, and his accolades speak for themselves, but he lit up when he spoke about his mom, or when he hugged his family after games," said Dwayne Wilmot, who was Belcher's position coach at Maine and is now an assistant coach at Yale.
"It's difficult to talk about Jovan in the past tense," he said.
"There's going to be unanswered questions, the whys of this tragedy. It'll never be truly known to us."
Wilmot said he'd stayed in touch with Belcher the past few years through social media.
"He was someone who took genuine pleasure in bringing happiness to others," Wilmot said. "I was so excited when he became a father, because I knew he'd be a great father."
His girlfriend's Facebook page shows the couple smiling and holding the baby.
Belcher is the latest among several players and NFL retirees to die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds during the past few years. The death of star linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself in the chest in at his California home last May, sent shockwaves around the league.
Seau's family, like those of other suicide victims, donated his brain tissue to medical authorities to determine if head injuries he sustained playing football might be linked to his death. That report has not been released, although an autopsy showed no underlying hemorrhaging or bruises on Seau's brain.
Belcher did not have an extensive injury history, though he was listed as having a head injury on a report from November 11, 2009. Belcher played four days later against the Oakland Raiders.
Earlier this year, the NFL provided a grant to help establish an independently operated phone service that connects players, coaches, team officials and other staff with counsellors trained to work through personal and emotional crises. The NFL Life Line is available 24 hours a day.
The season has been a massive disappointment for the Chiefs, who were expected to contend for the AFC West title. They're 1-10 and mired in an eight-game skid marked by injuries, poor play and fan upheaval. During the past few weeks there have been constant calls for Pioli and Crennel to be fired.
It's not known how the Chiefs plan to pay tribute to Belcher during their NFL game against the Panthers.
"His move to the NFL was in keeping with his dreams," said Jack Cosgrove, who coached Belcher at Maine. "This is an indescribably horrible tragedy."