KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI // It began like any other Saturday for the Kansas City Chiefs, an American football team.Their general manager and coach came to work early to put the final touches on the weekend's game plan - then they got a call to hurry to the nearby car park.
The two men rushed through the glass doors of the team's headquarters and came face to face with linebacker Jovan Belcher, holding a handgun to his head.
Belcher had already killed his girlfriend and sped the short distance to Arrowhead Stadium, past a security checkpoint guarding the entrance. Upon finding his bosses, Belcher thanked the general manager, Scott Pioli, and Romeo Crennel, the team's head coach, for giving him a chance in the National Football League (NFL). Then he turned away and pulled the trigger. The murder and suicide shocked a franchise that has been dealing with controversies now made trivial by comparison. Eight consecutive losses, injuries too numerous to count, discontent among fans and the prospect that Pioli and Crennel could be sacked at the end of the season.
Authorities did not release a possible motive while piecing together the case, other than to note that Belcher, 25, and his girlfriend, Kasandra M Perkins, 22, had been arguing frequently. The couple leave a girl of three months, now being cared for by family.
Perkins went to high school in Austin, Texas, and came to Kansas City three years ago. According to The Kansas City Star newspaper, a friend said she and Belcher had dated for most of that time. She had been a teaching student at Blue River Community College. She had not enrolled this term because of her daughter's birth.
The Kansas City Chiefs said that their game yesterday against the Carolina Panthers would go ahead as scheduled, even as the franchise tried to come to grips with the awfulness of Belcher's death.
Crennel planned to coach.
"I can tell you that you have absolutely no idea what it's like to see someone kill themselves," said Sly James, the Kansas City mayor, who spoke to Pioli shortly after the shootings.
"You can take your worst nightmare and put someone you know and love in that situation, and give them a gun and stand three feet away and watch them kill themselves. That's what it's like," Mr James said. "It's unfathomable."
Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn told The Kansas City Star that when the team met later on Saturday morning, Crennel broke the news to them.
"It was obviously tough for coach to have to tell us that," Quinn said. "He really wasn't able to finish talking to us. We got together and prayed and then we moved on."
But Quinn said the team were so stunned, it was hard to digest what had happened.
Belcher was from West Babylon, New York, and played college football at the University of Maine. He signed with the Chiefs as a free agent, made the team and stayed for the past four years, eventually moving into the starting line-up. He played in all 11 games this season.
The drama unfolded when authorities received a call from a woman who said her daughter had been shot multiple times at a residence about five miles from the Arrowhead complex. The call came from Belcher's mother, who referred to the victim as her daughter.
"She treated Kasandra like a daughter," said Darin Snapp, a Kansas City police spokesman, adding that the woman had recently moved in with the couple, "probably to help out with the baby".
Police then received a phone call from the football team's training facility, and Belcher's description matched the suspect description from the initial address. Mr Snapp said officers pulled into the practice facility car park in a matter of minutes, in time to witness the suicide.
The coaches told police they never felt in any danger. "They said the player was actually thanking them for everything they'd done for him," Mr Snapp said. "He was thanking them and everything. That's when he walked away and shot himself."
A group of Belcher's friends and relatives gathered on Saturday at his boyhood home on Long Island. "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.
Belcher is the latest of several players and NFL retirees to die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in recent years. He did not have an extensive injury history, though Belcher was listed as having a head injury in 2009. He played four days later against the Oakland Raiders.
On September 14, three days after the baby's birth, Perkins posted a photo on Facebook of Belcher holding their daughter. She wrote: "My loves."