ORONO — Shock and pain rippled through the football community at the University of Maine on Saturday at the news that Jovan Belcher, a former star linebacker, had murdered his girlfriend and then killed himself a short time later while Kansas City Chiefs team officials watched.
“It’s a real tragedy, a horrible tragedy,” said Maine Head Coach Jack Cosgrove at a news conference on campus late Saturday afternoon. “There are a lot of stomachs and hearts hurting right now.”
Belcher, 25, was playing his fourth season at linebacker with the Chiefs. Police say he shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, 22, multiple times Saturday morning in the home they shared with their 3-month-old daughter in a Kansas City neighborhood. He then drove to Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs train and play.
Belcher spoke with Chiefs Head Coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Scott Pioli, thanking them for the opportunities they had given him, said Cosgrove. Then Belcher walked away and shot himself in the head.
Almost immediately afterward, Cosgrove took a call from Jack Bicknell Jr., the offensive line coach with Kansas City and a longtime friend. Bicknell told Cosgrove what happened.
“I don’t have any explanation and reason why,” said Cosgrove. “We just don’t know. I’m not going to try to speculate. You talk about what you do know. I remember his smile. He was a pretty steady guy. I remember how he handled adversity and how he handled success. I remember how he was (at Maine).”
Belcher last played for Maine in 2008. A native of West Babylon, N.Y., he graduated in three-and-a-half years said Cosgrove.
Cosgrove’s cellphone rang continually Saturday morning. Former Maine players and teammates of Belcher needed to talk with their coach. Mike DeVito, now a defensive lineman with the New York Jets, was one. So was Montell Owens (Jacksonville Jaguars) and many others.
Soon, Cosgrove found himself outside his home in Bangor, walking. He didn’t care where. “I wanted to cry,” said Cosgrove. He couldn’t reconcile the news that Belcher had taken a life.
“Everyone has a dark side,” he said. “I didn’t see this. I do know that for all Jovan’s successes, he didn’t have successful relationships with women. But that doesn’t explain what happened.”
A friend of the dead woman told the Kansas City Star that the couple argued in the early- morning hours after Perkins was out late attending Friday’s Trey Songz concert at The Midland arena.
The friend, who asked not to be identified, said Belcher confronted Perkins when she returned home about 1 a.m. CST.
The couple had dated about three years and argued frequently, the friend said, but she wasn’t aware of any prior physical abuse.
Police Capt. David Lindaman said Belcher shot Perkins around 7:50 a.m. CST. She was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Lindaman told the Star that Belcher’s mother, who was visiting the couple and their 3-month-old daughter from New York, witnessed the shooting and had been interviewed by police.
Another friend of Perkins’, Jennifer Ashley, told the Kansas City newspaper that Perkins was a student at Blue River Community College in Independence and wanted to be a school teacher. She said the victim had started dating Belcher after being introduced to him by the girlfriend of another Chiefs player.
Belcher’s Maine teammates spent the day calling and texting one another. Jordan Stevens, now an assistant coach on Cosgrove’s staff, played with Belcher at linebacker. Stevens had plans to go on the road Saturday for a recruiting trip. He postponed the drive south to the Portland area.
“It’s so unexpected,” said Stevens, a graduate of Mt. Blue High School in Farmington. “So unexplainable. He was one of the most sincere people I’ve known. He had a real presence. All of us as teammates looked to him as a leader. If you had a small part on the team he made you feel big.”
On the field, said Stevens, Belcher was relentless. His energy seemed boundless.
Stevens thought of Belcher getting into his car and driving to Arrowhead Stadium. “I can’t imagine what he was feeling. He understood the reality of what he had done.”
Belcher, Cosgrove said, had told Crennel and Pioli he had done a terrible thing and there was no turning back. Then Belcher walked away and put the gun to his head.
“It’s terrible,” said Chris Treister, a redshirt freshman quarterback from Cape Elizabeth when Belcher was a senior. “I feel terrible. It’s very hard to accept. My thoughts and prayers are with his girlfriend’s family.”
Treister said he doubted there were words to explain how Belcher could have taken a life. He didn’t have that understanding.
Police were called to the stadium around 8:10 a.m., according to the Star. “He had a conversation with Scott Pioli,” Lindaman said. “There was no threat and it was quite friendly, from what I understand. The Chiefs organization had been very supportive of him and he was expressing that.”
Kansas City Mayor Sly James went to Arrowhead and met with Pioli afterward, according to the newspaper.
“Think about your worst nightmare and multiply it by five,” James said.
“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.”
In a video titled “Belcher’s drive to succeed helps team and self” posted on the Chiefs website Nov. 21, Belcher commented on what he was most thankful for leading into the Thanksgiving holiday: “First and foremost, God. Family and friends just keeping me focused, coaches and just everyone.”
The video was removed Saturday afternoon.
After speaking to the media in Orono, Cosgrove went into the locker room to talk to his team. Some had met Belcher on their campus visits as high school seniors. The university did not permit media contact with the players.
The meeting had gone as well as to be expected, said Cosgrove. Football players try to be brothers to each other. At Maine, players do succeed in forming those lifetime bonds.
“I’ve always felt there was a special glue that sticks to someone who played up here,” said Cosgrove, who struggled at times to keep his composure. “I was told we could release a statement in my name. I didn’t want that. I had to say what today was about in my words.”
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: