Inside linebacker Jovan Belcher #59 of the Kansas City Chiefs wathces from the sideliens during his final game against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend in their home and then committed suicide at the team's practice facility Saturday morning, police said, an unprecedented act of violence involving an NFL player at a team facility.
Police confirmed that the player's suicide occurred in front of Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel, who were outside talking to him as he held a weapon.
"After talking to Crennel and Pioli, they said he was a good kid. He thanked them for everything they had done for him before walking away," said Darin Snapp, spokesman for Kansas City Police.
"The suspect walked in the opposite direction and shot himself."
On Perkins' Instagram page, she hailed the birth of her two-month-old daughter as the "best day of my life.'' The page displayed several photos of the proud parents with their newborn.
As scheduled, Kansas City will host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday after discussions between the league office, Crennel and team captains determined the game should be played.
Two people with knowledge of the decision to play the game as scheduled told USA TODAY Sports that there were no dissenting voices. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt discussed the issue with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, and Goodell in turn talked with players union chief DeMaurice Smith.
After meeting with his entire team at Arrowhead Stadium, Crennel met with the six team captains -- Matt Cassell, Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, Ryan Lilja, Terrance Copper and Dustin Colquitt. The captains agreed that the game should be played. The team was slated to reconvene on Saturday evening at a local hotel, as it is customary for the team to stay sequestered on the night before games.
"Love. Laughter. Life. Loyalty,'' wrote Perkins on the page.
Snapp confirmed that the couple's daughter, Zoey, born Sept. 11, is safe. The baby is in the care of Belcher's mother, who police said lived with the couple in a house leased by her son.
The confounding murder-suicide stunned the small-market city, sent reverberations through the league and devastated a franchise nonetheless all too accustomed to dealing with shocking deaths of Chiefs players. League spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that no player ever had committed suicide at a team facility.
"People think how can a young man with the world in front of him, making good money and playing on a national stage, do something like that?," former Chiefs running back Tony Richardson told USA TODAY Sports. "But you just don't understand the mental state of what some people are dealing with. It's sad.''
Kansas City Mayor Sly James told The Associated Press that he spoke with Pioli, who told the mayor he was concerned about fan reaction. "I think (the Chiefs) think there's an obligation to the people of this city, the fans of the team and the fans of the other team to play the game,'' James said.
The NFL said it has coupled the franchise with a team of grief counselors for support.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Chiefs and the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy,'' the league said in a statement.
Belcher, 25, played football at the University of Maine from 2005-08, where he was a co-captain his senior season. Originally from West Babylon, N.Y., Belcher graduated with a bachelor's degree in child development and family relations. His former college coach, Jack Cosgrove, remembered him Saturday as a "tremendous student-athlete.''
"His move to the NFL was in keeping with his dreams,'' Cosgrove said in a statement. "This is an indescribably horrible tragedy.''
Likewise, former college teammates were left pondering what went wrong. Anthony Cotrone, who played fullback at Maine, recalled that his former teammate "always had a smile.''
"He was such a great kid all about his family,'' Cotrone said. "I got 50 calls and texts from old teammates after the news broke and the reaction was pretty much the same: 'This is so sad. What happened to him?' ''
For now, no one seems to know.
But the tragic events that unfolded in the wee hours of Saturday morning indicate what might have triggered the murder-suicide at the three-bedroom split-level home in a residential neighborhood east of the city.
The Kansas City Star, quoting an unidentified friend of Perkins, reported that Belcher confronted his girlfriend after she returned at about 1 a.m. following a Trey Songz concert.
The couple had dated about three years and argued frequently, the woman told The Star.
A different friend, Jennifer Ashley, said that Perkins was pursuing a degree at Blue River Community College in Independence, Mo., with the hopes of becoming a teacher, according to The Star. Ashley told the newspaper that the couple had been introduced by a girlfriend of another Chiefs player.
Kenneth Dikum, who lives four houses down from Belcher on Crysler Avenue, stood outside his front door on Saturday afternoon, peering in the direction of Belcher's house. Dikum, 40, was away from home this morning when his wife called him and told him what had happened.
Dikum said he had never spoken to Belcher or Perkins, and he did not know Belcher was a player for the Chiefs.
"I was so surprised to hear what had happened," Dikum said. He said the neighborhood is usually quiet, but he recalled although Belcher had just hosted a large party at his house on Thanksgiving night.
Another neighbor, Kristen VanMeter, 31, said she had spoken to Belcher occasionally when he did work outside his house, but she had never met his girlfriend.
"He was a terrific neighbor," VanMeter said. "We didn't think anything like that was going on."
VanMeter also said she did not know Belcher played for the Chiefs. She said he mostly kept to himself, and she never noticed anything unusual at the house.
Neither Dikum nor VanMeter were aware that Perkins recently gave birth to Belcher's child.
Snapp said police first responded to a call at 7:50 a.m. CT that a woman had been shot. She was taken to the hospital where she died. At around 8:10 a.m., Snapp said police received a call from Arrowhead Stadium security command reporting an armed male in the parking lot.
Officers observed the man with the gun held to his head. It was Belcher. After briefly speaking with Pioli and Crennel, the player shot himself.
In a statement, the team said, "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. 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.
"We will continue to fully cooperate with the authorities and work to ensure that the appropriate counseling resources are available to all members of the organization."
The city's mayor, on his Twitter account, encouraged the crestfallen city to wear Chiefs red to "show compassion for those involved and unity as a caring city.''
Some Chiefs personnel, including tackle Eric Winston, were at the facility when the shooting occurred because a team meeting was scheduled for 9:30 a.m..
"It's just all very sad,'' Winston said. "There (are) rumors going around. But I don't really know. We're still finding out. We were all just shuttled out of there pretty fast."
"Like a lot of guys, I'm still trying to talk to a lot of the guys.''
Belcher already had overcome long odds to make it in pro football. He was an undrafted free agent. At Maine, he won 2008 CAA Conference defensive player of the year. He was in his fourth season with the Chiefs. He was a restricted free agent this past offseason and signed the second-round tender with the $1.927 million base salary that came with it.
Those close to Belcher during his college playing days recalled his love of family, making the tragic news all the more senseless. His position coach at that time, Dwayne Wilmot, recalled the easiest way to make Belcher smile was to tell him his mother was coming to a game. More than anything, Belcher wanted to make his brood proud.
"Family was paramount for Jovan. you could see it at every game," said Wilmot, now a coach at Yale. "His family showed up in force. He relished the opportunity to make them proud as a student and an athlete. He did what he did for their love and their adulation.
"I'm devastated right now," he added. "Trying to hold together."
To the Maine athletics community, Belcher was a light the long shot who reached the pinnacle. His native Long Island is not considered a pro football hotbed, and he converted from outside linebacker to defensive end during his college career. Belcher then made the tricky switch to inside linebacker for the Chiefs as a rookie in 2009.
"What you saw was the burning desire to be successful," Wilmot said. "If he had the opportunity, he'd make the most of it ... This is a tragic end. But his life had a greater good than just this tragic end."
This is not the first time tragedy has struck the Chiefs organization.
In February 2000, star linebacker Derrick Thomas of the Chiefs died from injuries sustained in an auto accident weeks earlier. Thomas was a Pro Bowler in nine of his 11 seasons with the Chiefs. In 2009, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1983, Kansas City running back Joe Delaney drowned while trying to rescue three children who were struggling in a pond in Monroe, La. Though an inexperienced swimmer, Delaney made the rescue attempt. Two of the children also drowned. Delaney was a Pro Bowler in his second season with the Chiefs in 1982.
All three deaths had at least one thing in common. Family, friends and fans were asking left asking one question: Why?