KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Heads bowed, somber past and present Kansas City Chiefs players turned out Wednesday for a memorial service for teammate Jovan Belcher, who killed his girlfriend and then himself over the weekend.
Belcher, a former University of Maine All-American, fatally shot 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins on Saturday at the Kansas City home they shared with their 3-month-old daughter, Zoey. He then drove to the Chiefs practice facility at Arrowhead Stadium, where coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli and defensive assistant Gary Gibbs witnessed Belcher commit suicide.
The team moved up its practice schedule so that players could attend Wednesday afternoon’s service at the nearby Landmark International Deliverance and Worship Center, where Belcher and Perkins worshipped. The media wasn’t allowed inside.
Afterward, a coffin was wheeled from the building and driven away in a hearse.
Retired Chiefs Hall of Famer Bobby Bell said Pioli and an uncle of Belcher’s spoke during the service.
“It’s done and over with and people need to get on with their lives, and the team needed to try to get forward,” Bell said. “It’s tough on them. When you see somebody and play with them you’re buddies, friends.”
Many of the players boarded coach buses after the service, but a few walked to their own vehicles with their wives and girlfriends.
“It was good,” running back Peyton Hillis said of the service. He wouldn’t comment further.
Defensive end Ropatisp Pitoitua, kicker Ryan Succop, and linebacker Derrick Johnson said they didn’t want to be interviewed.
Before the service, veteran offensive lineman Ryan Lilja said he hoped the memorial would provide some closure for the Chiefs, who will try to win their second straight game Sunday at Cleveland.
“You got to try to deal with it however you deal with it, and grieve the best way for the individual,” he said, “and I think this is the best way for us as a team to get closure and move on and focus on football.”
Lilja said some players have taken advantage of counseling services that have been provided by the Chiefs and the NFL and that there’s been a change in the atmosphere around the team building.
“There definitely is more, ‘How you doing? How you feeling? How you coping?'” Lilja said. “There’s definitely more of that, and people leaning on each other, and be an ear when they need it. Guys are going to deal with this on an individual basis.”
Pastor Sylvarena Funderburke, who serves at Repairers of the Breach Christian Center in Kansas City, said she was at the service to sing “I Won’t Complain,” a song the Belcher family requested.
“It is an honor. We don’t always understand why things happen,” she said before the service. “That’s when you have to rely on your faith and just trust God to give you strength to make it through tough times.”
Karen Young, who belongs to the Landmark church and serves as an usher, said Belcherand Perkins went to the church “practically” every week until the baby was born but hadn’t been seen much since then.
Larry Brown, who also attends the Landmark church, said Belcher was “gentle” and “caring” and Perkins “a real nice person.”
“I believed that they were made for each other,” said Brown, whose brother is the church’s leader, Bishop John L. Brown. “They didn’t appear to be the type of people who just put on facades. They were very happy. She was very genuine. Every time I saw them, they were always laughing.”
The barber shop where Belcher was a regular is in the same strip mall where the church is located. Barber Lee Garron walked over to the memorial service to pay his respects.
“He was a good person,” Garron said. “He was. He was like anyone else. You don’t know what they are thinking or what is going on in their head. It’s like you or me. You just never know.”
Belcher’s Chiefs locker remained full of his equipment and personal belongings Wednesday as players quickly showered and dressed in suits for the service. Some said they avoided looking at the linebacker’s locker, while others were fine with seeing their teammate’s things as he left them.
“I don’t have a problem seeing Javon’s locker over there,” defensive back Travis Daniels said.
He said it was important for the team to support the families of everyone involved.
“We’re definitely thankful we have the opportunity to see them one last time before they go home and everything,” Daniels said ahead of the service, referring to relatives who traveled from out of town to attend. “We definitely want to go and pay respects to him and his family.”