For a Thanksgiving video on the Chiefs' website, fourth-year linebacker Jovan Belcher smiled into the camera and shared what he was thankful for: "First and foremost, God, family and friends just keeping me focused." To friends in private, his recent messages were more complex and unrecognizable as having come from the same person.
Reggie Paramoure, who played on defense with Belcher at the University of Maine, was texting with his former teammate last Friday night. "I see yall boys aint doing too well," Paramoure wrote, referring to the Chiefs' 1--10 start. "Wats goen on wit u besides ball."
"Yea man," Belcher replied, "our 'o' can't even put 7 in the board for us, but everything good bro, baby momma crazy but I have a little girl almost 3 month man and she's a blessing, she makes me smile on the worst day."
"Daughter!" Paramoure wrote, and then jokingly suggested that Belcher better have a gun ready to ward off future boyfriends. "Yea man," Belcher responded, "I got about 8 guns now, from hand Gunz to assault rifles for her little bf's."
The previous week's game had been the first this season that Belcher, 25, did not start. "I'm good bro," he wrote, toward the end of the exchange, "just trying to stay on the field and get this new contract but this losing s--- ain't helping."
On Saturday morning Belcher used one of his handguns to kill Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his daughter, before killing himself.
"Just the night before, I was checking up on him," Paramoure says. "That's what's so surreal, that I was literally speaking to him the night before." Belcher was generally a quiet man, says Paramoure, but, "he was very emotional. I believe that's what made him so good [on the field]."
Why Belcher did what he did is, and may remain, unanswerable. In an age of like buttons and online postings, links and tweets, a "profile" can be created with a few keystrokes. But the person behind that profile remains altogether more complex. The contrast between Belcher's blithe Thanksgiving message and the texts he exchanged with Paramoure is emblematic of the diverse characterizations of Belcher, which left even those who knew him well wondering what they really knew.
Belcher was just the kind of player Maine football coach Jack Cosgrove liked. Cosgrove refers to his program as the Island of Misfit Toys—a reference to the site of exile for flawed, unwanted playthings in the old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special—because no player ends up there by design.
"It's the guys who were too small, or too slow, or not developed enough; guys with something to prove," says Matt King, one of Belcher's teammates at Maine and now an assistant strength coach there. Maine was the only school that offered the undersized Belcher a scholarship, coming out of West Babylon (N.Y.) High. Once there, though, he seemed to fit perfectly.