KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) — Members of the Kansas City Chiefs dressed in suits and ties after practice Wednesday and boarded a series of buses to attend a memorial service for Jovan Belcher, their teammate who was involved in a murder-suicide over the weekend.
The team moved up its practice schedule so that players could attend the service at Landmark International Deliverance and Worship Center, a short drive from the team’s practice facility.
Belcher shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their home Saturday morning before driving to Arrowhead Stadium and turning the gun on himself. Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli and defensive assistant Gary Gibbs witnessed Belcher commit suicide not far from where the buses were staged.
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 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 [being] an ear when they need it. Guys are going to deal with this on an individual basis.”
The memorial service was not open to the public. 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 Belcher and Perkins went to the church “practically every week” until the baby was born but hadn’t been seen much since then.
Belcher’s locker remained full of his equipment and personal belongings Wednesday as players quickly showered and dressed in suits. Some of them said they avoided looking at it intentionally, while others had no problem with the locker remaining as it was as a memorial to their teammate.
Defensive back Travis Daniels said he understood the complexity in memorializing a man who committed murder and remembering someone the team knew and loved.
“Any time you look at a situation, there’s going to be multiple views, how someone feels you should go about it,” he said. “Just like when we’re on the field, some people think we should have made this tackle or that catch, and other people might think it was too hard. I don’t have a problems seeing Javon’s locker over there.”
Daniels said that Wednesday’s memorial service could “reopen wounds,” but he also said it might provide some closure. He said it was important for the team to support the families of everyone involved — the murder-suicide left a 3-month-old girl, Zoey, any without any parents.
“We’re definitely thankful we have the opportunity to see them one last time before they go home and everything,” Daniels said. “We definitely want to go and pay respects to him and his family.”
AP reporter Heather Hollingsworth contributed to this story.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.