Minutes after fatally shooting his girlfriend Saturday morning in the home they shared, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher drove five miles to the team's practice facility and parked awkwardly out front.
Kansas City, Mo., police said the 25-year-old player got out of his car and, while holding a gun to his head, spoke briefly with Chiefs Coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Scott Pioli, who had come outside to meet him. He thanked them for the opportunity to play in the NFL.
When police arrived on the scene, Belcher turned, walked about 30 feet west toward an empty parking lot, pulled the trigger and took his life.
Around the same time, Belcher's girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, 22, was being taken to the hospital. She died about 30 minutes after she was shot. The couple had a 3-month-old daughter who was in the house at the time of the shooting but was in another room. It was Belcher's mother, staying at the home, who called police.
"Think about your worst nightmare and multiply it by five," Kansas City Mayor Sly James told the Kansas City Star after meeting with Pioli at the stadium. "Put somebody you know and love into that situation, and give them a gun, and stand three feet away from them and watch them kill themselves.… It's unfathomable."
The Chiefs, who play host Sunday to the Carolina Panthers, had scheduled a team meeting for 9:30 a.m. — about 11/2 hours before Belcher pulled into the parking lot — so there were an estimated 20 people at the facility when he shot himself, police 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," Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said in a statement released by the team.
The murder-suicide reverberated through the NFL on what is typically a quiet day of preparation for games. The tragedy left those who felt they knew Belcher groping for answers.
"He was a great kid, one of my favorites," said former Chiefs Coach Todd Haley, now offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "He hugged me after the game when we played them a couple weeks ago and was bragging about his new daughter.
"One of his buddies is friends with somebody on our team, and I ran into him coming into the building this morning. When he told me, I called my wife right away and I was emotional. It's crazy. In season, nothing like this has ever happened, nothing of this magnitude that I can remember."
Belcher and Perkins reportedly had a tumultuous relationship and, police said, had been fighting in the hour leading up to the shooting. Perkins had been out late Friday night, attending a Trey Songz concert. Haley said Belcher and Perkins had met through another Chiefs player.
On her Facebook page, Perkins, who is from Dallas, posted several pictures of the couple and their daughter, including one of Belcher gently cradling the baby. That photo's caption reads "My loves."
Another picture features Belcher leaping over a player to get to Arizona's quarterback and is captioned "In LOVE with SUPERMAN."
Among the "likes" on Belcher's Facebook page was one for "Male Athletes Against Violence," a project founded at his alma mater, the University of Maine, aimed at raising awareness about the problem of male violence against women.
Belcher grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and was an outstanding wrestler. Maine was the only school that offered him a football scholarship. From there, he made the improbable rise from undrafted free agent in 2009 to starting inside linebacker for Kansas City.
"Coming from a small high school, a small college, you're looked down upon like you can't do some of the things that other kids are doing who went to bigger schools," Belcher told the Star in 1999. "In my position, I've always been the underdog."
He was second on the team with 87 tackles last season, and had 38 in 11 games for the 1-10 Chiefs this season.
"I am devastated and heart broken," Chiefs offensive lineman Jeff Allen wrote on Twitter. "I'm sending prayers out to everyone involved. Always show love and never be afraid to talk."