COMMENTARY

Tragedy and trauma land hardest on innocent child

Updated: 2012-12-02T16:56:02Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

An infant girl wakes up this morning without parents, both dead, dad killing mom and then turning the gun on himself. There are no answers. None that make sense, anyway.

Jovan Belcher, the Chiefs linebacker, shot longtime girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, drove to the team’s practice facility, thanked general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel for all they’ve done for him, then killed himself.

The Chiefs will never be the same after a murder-suicide unprecedented in the NFL.

More importantly, neither will two families and a baby girl now orphaned.

What Belcher did on Saturday made him first a criminal, then a coward. The world now knows him as a monster. What Belcher did on Saturday leaves a trail of people who loved him scarred for the rest of their lives, wondering if they ever really knew the man.

“I can tell you that you have absolutely no idea of what it’s like to see somebody kill themselves,” said Kansas City mayor Sly James, who spoke with Pioli. “If you can take your worst nightmare and then 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, that’s what it’s like.”

At noon today at Arrowhead, some twenty-eight hours after living that nightmare, Crennel will coach the Chiefs in a game against the Carolina Panthers that was already meaningless for a 1-10 team going nowhere. Now, it becomes a story about a coaching staff and players dealing with unthinkable tragedy the only way they know.

James said the trauma felt by Pioli and Crennel would be like your worst nightmare, and if that’s true, imagine what it’ll like for that baby girl and the rest of these familes. Belcher’s mother was in the house when gunshots blasted, and called the police.

Two families, each tragically broken, must now try to make sense of senseless. A quiet man’s personal demons won out, leaving two who once loved each other dead.

Crennel and Pioli have been consumed with football this fall, each fighting a dismal season that may cost them their jobs.

Now, these shadows will never fully leave them. On Saturday, they watched a man they know and respect put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.

Nobody can say why Belcher did it. He was a good man, friends said. Respected as a teammate. Took football seriously. Majored in child development and family relations at the University of Maine, made the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent, played every game since his rookie year.

But the Chiefs will have to be careful how they publicly remember a murderer.

Those of us left to grapple with what’s occurred should hug our children a little tighter today. Be more considerate of our spouses. And confront the cold reality that dysfunction gone unchecked can ruin lives.

According to medical studies, around 600 murder-suicide events take place each year in the United States, resulting in 1,000 to 1,500 deaths. Most of those don’t generate this much attention. As far as anyone can remember, this is the first such incident involving an athlete in America’s most popular sport.

Three months ago, a man shot a woman and then killed himself in the Kauffman Stadium parking lot a few hours before a Royals game. The victim in that shooting had two children, a school-aged son and a grown daughter. She spent weeks in a hospital; her spleen was removed, among other operations, but she has survived.

That story came and went faster than this one will, and if we’re smart we’ll gain some understanding about the problem. Maybe we’ll remember that domestic abuse is still a major problem in America.

Maybe this is a reminder that we don’t really know our athletes, or our neighbors. Those around Belcher continue to say he was a good man, with a perhaps rocky but never before violent relationship with Perkins. The rest of us now know him for a gruesome, heartless and cowardly act. There can be no bridging of those two views.

Kansas City and the football world are shaken, and especially around here, neither will ever be quite the same. But the bigger world will go on, starting today with a football game that’s impossible to care much about.

The Chiefs will play four more games this season. Afterward, decisions will be made about the franchise’s future, and Belcher’s teammates will scatter for the offseason to spend more time with their families.

And every day, that little girl will wake up without her parents.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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