Many people woke up Saturday morning to the news that a Kansas City Chiefs player had killed his girlfriend and then taken his own life. The details trickled in. Within a few hours of the murder-suicide, the player's identity was released: Jovan Belcher, a linebacker in his fourth year as a pro.
The scene was horrific: Belcher, 25, had shot Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his 3-month-old daughter, Zoey, nine times, just before 8 a.m. Belcher's mother was in the couple's home at the time of the shooting. Belcher then drove to the team's practice facility where he held a gun to his head. He thanked head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli. As the police sirens grew louder and officers converged on the Chiefs' practice facility, Belcher shot himself in the head.
In the immediate aftermath of the murder-suicide, the local and national media tried to interpret the uninterpretable story: the answer to the question why, the fact that it could never be answered. Had concussions played a factor in the killing? (The crime recalled the 2007 murder-suicide involving professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who killed his wife and 7-year-old son before hanging himself. Study of Benoit's brain revealed that it resembled that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient.)
Meanwhile, the Chiefs organization and the NFL had several tough decisions to make. The Chiefs were scheduled to play the Carolina Panthers at Arrowhead the next afternoon. The NFL told the Panthers to fly to Kansas City, and the franchise announced Saturday afternoon that the game would be played. The Chiefs left Belcher's locker untouched. At the game, neither Belcher nor Perkins was mentioned. Instead, the team held a moment of silence for victims of domestic violence.
"I do applaud the Chiefs for recognizing the situation as one of domestic violence," says Janeé Hanzlick, associate director of Safehome, a domestic-violence shelter in Johnson County.
Though Belcher was never charged with abusing Perkins, Hanzlick says it's common for abuse victims to not call the police.
"At Safehome, we have many, many victims of domestic violence who come to us and have never called law enforcement," she says.
The Chiefs defeated the Panthers 27-21, earning the franchise's second victory of the season. Crennel, who coached the game despite witnessing the suicide, told the media after the game that he didn't want to talk about what he saw.
"I'm choosing not to answer any questions about what I saw yesterday," Crennel told the media in the postgame press conference. "I think you will understand that and, hopefully, you will respect my wishes on that because it wasn't a pretty sight, so I'm choosing not to talk about it."
The finest moment came courtesy of quarterback Brady Quinn, who offered a forthright assessment of the incident in his postgame comments.
"We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that's fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us," Quinn said. "Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis."
In the immediate wake of the murder-suicide, Kansas City Star columnists Sam Mellinger and Yael Abouhalkah branded Belcher a "coward."
"The world now knows him as a monster," Mellinger wrote. "What Belcher did on Saturday leaves a trail of people who loved him scarred for the rest of their lives, wondering if they ever really knew the man."
Abouhalkah grasped for a positive take-away.
"[I]t's certainly true that the incidents will spotlight for many Kansas Citians that we have to look for warning signs among people who may be depressed, who may be engaging in domestic violence," wrote Abouhalkah, who penned several posts about the homicide's effect on the city's reputation. "That's a small bit of good that can come out of this tragedy."
On Sunday, Deadspin posted an e-mail from someone claiming to be close to Belcher who painted a picture of a football player deteriorating due to head injuries and substance abuse.
"When it comes to prescription medication it is unclear from my perspective whether it was diagnosed and authorized by the team or not," the e-mailer wrote. "However I know he was under the influence of narcotics for pain and I'm sure the toxicology report will reflect this. However, Jovan drank ALOT. On a nightly basis. This is not a mystery as he did so in public and private.
"When it comes to his concussions; if you review the footage of the Cincinnati game he took a few hits to the head directly [...] he was dazed and was suffering from short term memory loss. He could not remember the events that had taken place prior to that game or what he had said to get Kasi to return home," another read.
A different e-mail said Belcher was frustrated by Perkins for failing classes at a local college and for not holding a job.
NBC's Bob Costas used his weekly editorial during Sunday Night Football to call for stricter gun laws. Costas' plea quoted a Fox Sports column by Jason Whitlock (formerly of the Star).
"In the coming days, Jovan Belcher's actions, and their possible connection to football, will be analyzed," Costas said. "Who knows? But here, wrote Jason Whitlock, is what I believe: If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."
In his column, Whitlock reamed America for its religious devotion to football and gun violence.
"All he [Belcher] could think to do in the immediate aftermath is rush to thank his football coach and football employer," he wrote. "Belcher's last moments on this earth weren't spent thanking the mother who raised him or apologizing to the child he would orphan. His final words of gratitude and perhaps remorse were reserved for his football gods."
Sunday night, Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe tweeted a photo of himself pointing heavenward and wearing a red T-shirt, with a picture of Belcher among clouds and the phrase, "Love leaves a memory no one can steal." Belcher's name was misspelled "Javon" on the shirt.
On 610 Sports' Danny Parkins Show, Parkins and Mellinger debated using the word coward. Parkins argued that Belcher was likely suffering from mental illness. A subdued Mellinger repeated several times that the now-orphaned 3-month-old Zoey was on his mind when he chose the word. "I can't get that little girl out of my mind," Mellinger said.
A report by the Bangor Daily News recalled an incident from Belcher's time at the University of Maine in which he punched a window while upset about a woman. He was never charged in that incident.
"Nobody ever would have taken that incident and turned it into some sort of foreshadowing of what he would [ultimately] do," Mike Brusko, one of Belcher's college teammates, told the paper.
The Daily News also reported that Belcher took a class at the university called Male Athletes Against Violence and mentored kids through Big Brothers Big Sisters.
The timeline of events was still being pieced together Tuesday evening. Sports Illustrated reported that Belcher was "partying" in the Power & Light District with another woman Friday night. SI reported that Belcher and the woman became separated, and he went to the woman's apartment building on Armour Boulevard to wait for her.
The Star had previously reported that Belcher and Perkins argued around 1 a.m., after she attended a Trey Songz concert. KSHB Channel 41 later reported that Kansas City police had found Belcher sleeping in his Bentley around 2:50 a.m. outside the Armour Boulevard apartment building. He reportedly told police that he was "waiting for his girlfriend." Belcher made a call on his cellphone; a woman came outside and let him into one of the apartments, where he spent the next few hours.
Belcher arrived at his and Perkins' home around 7 a.m., and the two argued.
On Tuesday, the Star posted an "exclusive" story on the last hours of the lives of Belcher and Perkins, reporting that Belcher kissed Perkins on her forehead seconds after shooting her at 7:50 a.m. Belcher then apologized to his mother, kissed Zoey and fled to the Chiefs practice facility, five miles away.
The Star report says Belcher, who exited his Bentley with a gun to his head, first encountered Pioli in the parking lot. "I did it," he said. "I killed her."
Pioli tried to talk Belcher into dropping the gun, the Star reported. Instead, Belcher thanked the GM, asked him if he and Clark Hunt would care for his daughter and then said, "Guys, I have to do this."
By this time time, Crennel and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs had arrived. "I got to go," Belcher told them. "I can't be here." He then knelt behind his car, made the sign of a cross over his chest and shot himself.
In Kansas City, there have been 14 homicides this year in which one partner killed the other. Safehome's Hanzlick says in Johnson County last year, seven of the 11 murders were committed by domestic partners.
An abbreviated version of this story ran in the 12/6/12 print edition of The Pitch.