The Scars Haven’t Left
One Year Later, Belcher Shootings Still Hurt in Kansas City
ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, NOV. 30-DEC. 1 - FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2012, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, left, and coach Romeo Crennel stand together before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. It was one year ago this weekend that linebacker Jovan Belcher shot to death the mother of his child, drove to the Arrowhead Stadium practice facility and turned the gun on himself. One of the darkest days in franchise history shook the Chiefs and the city they call home to their very core. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)
ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, NOV. 30-DEC. 1 - FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2012, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Jovan Belcher warms up prior to an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Kansas City, Mo. It was one year ago this weekend that Belcher shot to death the mother of his child, drove to the Arrowhead Stadium practice facility and turned the gun on himself. One of the darkest days in franchise history shook the Chiefs and the city they call home to their very core. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)
Kansas City, Mo. — Andy Reid remembers hearing the news as it filtered out of Kansas City on a cold December morning. It was just bits and pieces at first, nobody able to separate fact from fiction. All he knew for sure was there’d been a shooting death at Arrowhead Stadium.
It only came to light later that it had been a murder-suicide involving Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who shot to death the mother of his infant child before turning the gun on himself.
Reid was the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles one year ago this weekend, and his thoughts had drifted to his oldest son, Garrett, who had died of a drug overdose that August. He could relate to the pain that was being felt by so many people whose lives had been affected by a seemingly random act a violence that was almost too disturbing to comprehend.
“Talk about a gut-wrenching experience, that’s what that is,” Reid said this week. “My heart went out to them. I understood what they were going through. As it was then, as it is today, my thoughts and prayers are with their families. But life moves on. That’s the reality of it.”
As the Chiefs prepare to play the Denver Broncos today, on the one-year anniversary of one of the darkest days in franchise history, that nightmare has been replaced by something akin to a dream. Kansas City is off to a 9-2 start, barreling toward the playoffs, and Reid and new general manager John Dorsey have brought hope to a team — and a city — that had none a year ago.
Still, the wounds remain for so many people close to Belcher and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins. Like Reid, they can’t help but remember where they were when they heard the news, nor can they can keep from asking the same questions they asked that day.
Why would someone who seemed to have everything — money, status, a beautiful baby daughter — shoot his girlfriend nine times? Why would he drive his blood-stained Bentley to the Chiefs’ practice facility, thank then-coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli for all they had done for him, and then put the gun to his head and pull the trigger?
In their own words, here are but a few stories from those whose lives were affected.
There were only a handful of people in the Chiefs’ practice facility when Belcher arrived at about 8 a.m. They had done most of their preparation for that Sunday’s game against Carolina, and Saturday mornings tend to be sleepy around the NFL.
Edgar Jones decided to go in early, though. It happened to be his birthday.
“I was just going through my daily routine,” said Jones, a linebacker now with the Dallas Cowboys. “Got some information that we had some stuff going on outside. I really didn’t know what it was. And then from that, everything just happened.”
Jones recalled that Belcher, a longshot from the University of Maine who’d overcome great odds just to make it in the NFL, was one of the first people to welcome him to the Chiefs. They often talked about life, not just football, and Belcher seemed to glow in the days after baby Zoey was born.
“I guess it’s one of those situations where you kind of say you would never see it happen around where you’re at,” Jones said. “I know as far as me, I try always to extend myself out to anyone and just see how they’re doing, how their day is going. Sometimes little stuff like that can be big support for people. But I have my days that I think about it, I do.”
Matt Cassel hadn’t yet arrived at the practice facility when one of his teammates called to say that something was going on. Details were sketchy. But as one of the team captains, Cassel knew from the helicopters flying overhead that there was something wrong.
“Obviously, the facility itself was shut down. Police were everywhere,” recalled Cassel, now with the Minnesota Vikings. “Then, the team was sent up to Arrowhead.”
Cassel remembers sitting in the stadium locker room, so quiet that you could hear a pin drop on the carpeted floor, for 45 minutes. It seemed like an eternity. Finally, Crennel walked through the door and delivered the news: Belcher and his girlfriend had passed away.
The coach was easy on the details. He didn’t tell the team that Belcher had shot his girlfriend with his daughter in a nearby room, or that Crennel, Pioli and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs had pleaded with him to put the gun down in the parking lot.
In fact, Crennel — the son of a military man who was credited with holding the team together during those difficult of times — never would discuss watching Belcher pull the trigger.
“I think the intensity of the situation, the severity of it with domestic abuse and the violence and the tragic situation of a poor, young 3-month-old daughter being orphaned, there’s a lot of emotion that goes along with it,” Cassel said. “It was a tough day.”
The day hadn’t started yet for Le’Ron McClain when his phone started buzzing. First it was defensive back Donald Washington, who also played for the Chiefs. Then, before McClain could even answer the call, he was getting another from wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.
“I couldn’t believe it,” McClain said. “Both of them called me like, the same time. He called me, then Bowe beeped in and called me and just told me what happened. It was crazy.”
McClain, now with the San Diego Chargers, thought back to that day when he started to prepare for last Sunday’s game against Kansas City. He was looking at the roster, going over the Chiefs’ personnel, and paused when Belcher’s name wasn’t listed among the linebackers.
Even now, he has a hard time wrapping his head around it.
“It’s something I still think about,” McClain said. “Just the question, ‘Why?’ How could he do that to his own life, taking it? Stuff happens, and you really don’t know what’s going on outside of football. All the prayers and everything still go to his family.”
Many miles separate Javier Arenas and Eric Winston from Kansas City these days. The defensive back and offensive lineman both ended up in Arizona. But they had a moment this week when they reflected on one of the bleakest days in their professional lives.
“It doesn’t sink in. You don’t grasp immediately what happened,” Winston said. “I went from grieving for him, and mourning, to anger and to frustration and just simple disbelief. When you have something like that happen, you really run the gauntlet of human emotion.”
Winston said the incident made him more cognizant of the people in the locker room. They aren’t just football players, they’re people. They have real demons in their real lives, and it’s important to be available, to ask, “Hey, what’s wrong? What’s up? Let’s try to talk.”
The incident touched off countless discussions about alcohol abuse — Belcher had a history of drinking — along with gun control and domestic violence. There were questions about whether Belcher had sustained a head injury that may have resulted in depression or suicidal tendencies.
Meanwhile, Arenas can’t help but think about Belcher’s orphaned daughter who, after a brief custody battle, was awarded to Sophie Perkins, a cousin of Kasandra Perkins. She’s also the sister of Whitney Charles, whose husband is Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.
Trustees are overseeing Zoey’s inheritance, worth more than $1 million.
“His daughter and my daughter were born on the same day,” Arenas explained, “so I always want to be there for my daughter. Be a better parent. Not that he wasn’t, it’s just the situation.”
After finishing the year 2-14, one of those victories the day after the shootings, the Chiefs cleaned house in the offseason. Crennel and Pioli were let go, Reid and Dorsey brought in. There were countless personnel moves made. The entire franchise moved forward.
Now, one year later, positivity abounds at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs are in the midst of one of the greatest turnarounds in NFL history. They’d take control of the AFC West by beating the Broncos today, and move one step closer to homefield advantage in the playoffs.
But when they step on the field, those 22 remaining players who were part of the team last season will no doubt have a moment when they remember a day that will stick with them forever.
“There are still two grieving families,” Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali said, “and we want to let them go through their grieving process, and not keep talking about it.
“This is a new day, a new year,” Hali added. “We try not to focus on the past right now. There’s a lot of positive things that are happening for our team.”