Members of the Kansas City Chiefs dressed in suits and ties after practice Wednesday and boarded four 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 2 p.m. service at Landmark International Deliverance and Worship Center, a short drive from the team's practice facility. The service lasted about 90 minutes.
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, who was Belcher's position coach, witnessed Belcher commit suicide not far from where the buses were staged.
Pioli was among those who spoke at the service. In his final words, Belcher asked that Pioli and Chiefs Owner Clark Hunt look after his infant daughter.
Hunt attended the private service along with his family. In addition to teammates, close friends and family were invited to the service.
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 be an ear when they need it. Guys are going to deal with this on an individual basis."
He said players and coaches are looking for a way to cope.
"You have to got to deal with it and grieve in the best way for the individual and the best way for the team to get closure and move on," Lilja said. "We have to find some way to focus on football."
Chiefs Cornerback Travis Daniels said Belcher's teammates are still hurting. He said the constant reminders are tough.
"You definitely think about him. He's in our heart," Daniels said. "His family and Kasandra's family are in our hearts. So we just want to pay respects to him and his family."
Chiefs Quarterback Brady Quinn said the memories of recent days will stay with Belcher's friends, family and teammates forever.
"I don't think things will ever be back to normal. You know a lot of lives will be affected for a long time," Quinn said, adding that in the future that when Belcher's teammates lose a friend, teammate or family member that they will remember this loss.
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.
Before the service, 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 Jovan'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."
Nose Tackle Dontari Poe said he is focused on the man he knew as a friend and teammate.
"I know what kind of man he was when he was here and I focus on that and show respect to the man I knew," Poe said.
Quinn said in the aftermath of the tragedy that he hopes that greater attention will be raised to social issues.
"The thing everyone needs to take away from this is if you need help you need to talk to someone whether a counselor or someone close to you to help you through a tough situation to hopefully prevent this from happening in the future," Quinn said.
Belcher will be buried in his native New York.
Watch KCTV5 News at 4, 5 and 6 p.m. for more on this developing story.
AP reporter Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, MO, contributed to this story.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and Associated Press. All rights reserved.
1720 Valley View Drive