The Kansas City Chiefs, reeling after player Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend and then killed himself Saturday morning, said they will play Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend Saturday, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and committed suicide in front of his coach and general manager.
Authorities did not release a possible motive for the murder-suicide, though police said that Belcher and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kasandra M. Perkins, had been arguing recently. The two of them have a 3-month-old child.
GETTY: File. IMAGE: File photo of Jovan Belcher
Belcher thanked general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel before shooting himself in the parking lot of the team's practice facility, police spokesman Darin Snapp said. Police had locked it down by mid-morning and reporters were confined to the street just outside the gates.
The Chiefs game against the visiting Carolina Panthers will be placed as scheduled on Sunday, the Chiefs said on Saturday.
"After discussions between the league office, Head Coach Romeo Crennel and Chiefs team captains, the Chiefs advised the NFL that it will play tomorrow's game vs. the Carolina Panthers at its originally scheduled time," the Chiefs said in a statement.
Belcher was a 25-year-old native of West Babylon, N.Y., on Long Island, who played college ball at Maine. He signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent, made the team and stayed with it for four years, moving into the starting lineup. He'd played in all 11 games this season.
Facebook. IMAGE: Kasandra M. Perkins
"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 in a statement.
"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 cooperate with the authorities and work to ensure that the appropriate counseling resources are available to all members of the organization."
A spokesman for the team told The Associated Press that Crennel plans to coach on Sunday.
The NFL released a statement that also expressed sympathy and said, "we have connected the Chiefs with our national team of professional counselors to support both the team and the families of those affected. We will continue to provide assistance in any way that we can."
Authorities reported receiving a call Saturday morning from a woman who said her daughter had been shot multiple times at a residence about five miles away from the Arrowhead complex. The call actually came from Belcher's mother, who referred to the victim as her daughter, leading to some initial confusion, police said.
"She treated Kasandra like a daughter," Snapp explained. Belcher's mother, who is from New York, had recently moved in with the couple, "probably to help out with the baby," Snapp said.
Police then received a phone call from the Chiefs' training facility.
"The description matched the suspect description from that other address. We kind of knew what we were dealing with," Snapp said. The player was "holding a gun to his head" as he stood in front of the front doors of the practice facility.
"And there were Pioli and Crennel and another coach or employee was standing outside and appeared to be talking to him. It appeared they were talking to the suspect," 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, Snapp said.
"They said the player was actually thanking them for everything they'd done for him," he said. "They were just talking to him and he was thanking them and everything. That's when he walked away and shot himself."
At Belcher's mother's home on Long Island, relatives declined to talk to reporters. A purple SUV in the home's driveway was flying a small Kansas City Chiefs flag.
The somber mood lightened somewhat as darkness fell, with music playing and people drinking from Styrofoam cups. Belcher's family turned the front yard into a shrine, with a large poster of the player, 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 family friend Ruben Marshall, 42, who said he coached Belcher in youth football. He was stunned by the shooting and suicide. "You couldn't be around a better person."
At least 20 people gathered for a large group hug in the driveway.
"I still can't believe it," neighbor Roy Brown said. "I don't believe it."
Members of the Chiefs mostly laid low Saturday, 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."
Perkin'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 in the past couple of years. The death of the beloved star 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, has donated brain tissue from the linebacker's body for research to determine if head injuries he sustained playing football might be linked to his death.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James said that he spoke to Pioli after the shooting, and while he refused to discuss the GM's emotional state, the mayor said Pioli was "extremely concerned that fans of this team are not disappointed and not left in the cold."
"I think they 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.
Belcher had fought his way into the NFL the hard way.
The Long Island, New York, native was a talented and versatile high school player at West Babylon High School where he also played offensive tackle, nose guard and fullback and led his team to their first undefeated season as a senior.
Belcher also was a successful youth wrestler. He won three All-American selections in a sport he told the Chiefs' website that had helped him develop the character needed to try to break into the NFL.
"I think it helped build my whole mentality, to never give up and just keep fighting. Wrestling was a big part of it and it still is," he said in an interview with the Chiefs this month.
Belcher was recruited by the University of Maine, away from the national media spotlight and the scrutiny of many of the scouts looking for potential NFL talent.
The linebacker started all 45 games he played at Maine while completing a degree in child development and his performances impressed enough to earn him reviews as one of the most promising players from a "small school".
Belcher went undrafted in the 2009 draft but his disappointment ended when the Chiefs offered him a chance.
Establishing himself as a starter in his second and third years after initially breaking in through special teams, he had 171 tackles and as a restricted free agent, agreed in March to a 1-year deal worth just under $2 million.
Maine's head football coach, Jack Cosgrove, said Belcher was a "tremendous student-athlete."
"His move to the NFL was in keeping with his dreams," says Cosgrove. "This is an indescribably horrible tragedy."
"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 told the AP. "There's going to be unanswered questions, the why's 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."
The Associated Press, Reuters, The Kansas City Star and The Charlotte Observer all contributed to this report.