Kasandra Perkins always had a smile on her face. That is the first thing that anyone who knew her says about her.
The 22-year-old native Texan was fatally shot last Saturday by her boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who committed suicide later that day. She left behind a three-month-old daughter and many family and friends who are mourning this tragedy, and recalling a beautiful young woman filled with so much promise.
"She was a very bright girl, always had a smile on her face, very energetic," says Jason Garcia, a friend and co-worker. Garcia and Perkins began working together at the Turner Roberts Recreation Center in 2010. Perkins worked with children in the after-school and camp programs, and had dreams of becoming a teacher.
"She was an open-minded person," Garcia adds. "All the kids, they enjoyed her, they loved her. She was a good person for them to look up to."
Garcia's main memories of Perkins as a co-worker consist of her friendliness to everyone, and her ability to make people smile. He recalls one early morning when the staff was setting up for an event. "Everyone was kind of down and quiet because it was so early, and she just came out and said something like, ‘Man, I can’t do anything with my hair today!’ That got everyone laughing and in a good mood."
"She was the type of person who knew how to reach out to those who needed it; those who didn’t have a social circle."
As a student at Anderson High School, where Perkins graduated in 2009, she was remembered just as fondly. “I remember her being a really bubbly, very outgoing young lady," says dance teacher Erin Campbell. "She was the type of person who knew how to reach out to those who needed it; those who didn’t have a social circle.” She recollects a fellow student who told her that Perkins was the first person at Anderson who ever talked to her.
Principal Donna Houser says that Perkins was one of those students you never had to worry about. "There were no attendance issues; Kasandra was always on track at school, she was a good student. She was always respectful, and was very successful here at Anderson.”
Everyone knew her and liked her, says Assistant Principal Dee Biester — students and teachers alike. "Kasi was a very outgoing, nice, friendly, very social girl. She was always starting a conversation, with anyone and everyone. That smile [from her senior yearbook picture] — it’s the same great smile she had every single day.”
Biester learned about Kasi’s murder on the news. “They said she was from Austin, and my husband asked, ‘Do you know her?’ I thought, yes the name is the same, but it can’t be her. It just can't be.”
Tracey Smith, Perkins' softball coach at school, also found out through the news reports. “I’m a sports fanatic, and I was getting ready to watch the games that weekend when the news flash came on. I just thought, ‘Oh my god.’ It was incredibly shocking, and devastating.” Smith paused as she spoke, seeming choked up and trying to pull herself together. “She was a wonderful young lady, a hard worker and great sense of humor. She was popular, and always had a smile on her face. She gave it [softball] everything she had. She had a magnetic personality that drew people to her.”
For Garcia, he first heard about the murder-suicide through Facebook, although the facts were pieced together slowly. After Perkins left Austin for Kansas City, she and Garcia kept up through Facebook. Garcia was also friends with Belcher, whom he had met when Perkins brought him to the rec center.
Despite his stature, Garcia was quickly put at ease with Belcher's friendly demeanor. "A lot of pro athletes, I would expect them to be kind of cold or big-headed, but Jovan wasn’t like that. As soon as I met him he shook my hand and smiled, and greeted me well."
After Perkins left Austin, Garcia saw the photos she posted on Facebook of her and Belcher and also their new baby daughter. "I was happy for them; it was a blessing for them," he recalls. Last weekend, he first started seeing messages on Belcher's Facebook wall, when mutual friends began posting about his passing away in an accident.
"My heart started beating and I wondered if it was a car wreck or what. I was real shocked; I didn’t know what to think. I had a real bad feeling in my abdominal area, thinking is this real? Then I read another post that said, ‘You’re in God’s hands now, you and Kasandra together.’ And I thought, oh no, the both of them? It shocked me... I can’t even describe it.”
The family released the following statement. "On behalf of the Perkins Family, we appreciate the outpouring of love and concern for our Kasandra 'Kasi' Perkins. Our hearts are truly broken for Kasi was a beloved daughter, granddaughter, sister, mother, cousin and friend. At this time we request the media respect our privacy during this difficult time as we grieve for our loved one. Please keep us in your hearts and prayers as well as the Belcher family for two lives were lost. Again we thank you for your support, our wish is for Kasi to be remembered for the love she shared with us all. Kasi will be truly missed!"
Perkins was laid to rest in Austin, with funeral services to be held on December 8, 2012.