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Jaylon McKenzie, 8th grade football phenom already counting college offers, shot and killed at Illinois party

Jaylon McKenzie, a 14-year-old who already had multiple college football scholarship offers, was struck and killed by a stray bullet outside a party near St. Louis.

Posted: May 6, 2019 11:30 AM
Updated: May 6, 2019 11:30 AM

Jaylon McKenzie had plans of going to the NFL.

The 14-year-old from Belleville, Illinois, was an eighth-grader who already had college offers from University of Missouri and University of Illinois. He was featured in the Future Issue of Sports Illustrated in November 2018 along with five other teen sports stars. He wanted to be a pro star in California, playing for either the Los Angeles Rams or Chargers.

Those dreams died late Saturday when Jaylon was shot and killed at a party, his mother, Sukeena Gunner, told CNN.

Around 11:40 p.m. Saturday night, Illinois State Police said in a release, numerous law enforcement agencies responded to reports of a disturbance and shots fired at a large party in Venice, near the Illinois-Missouri border.

Jaylon had been at that party when a fight broke out, Gunner said. Jaylon walked outside to leave the party, and a stray bullet hit him. He and a 15-year-old girl were taken to a hospital where Jaylon died a short time after, police said. The girl is in critical condition, police said.

East St. Louis School District 189, where Jaylon was a student, confirmed that some of its students were shot at the party Saturday night.

"School District 189 has learned that a few of our students were shot at a house party in Venice, IL at some point Saturday night," a statement from the district read. "Few details are clear at this point. We do know that our youth, families and school staff have dealt with a number of tragedies and incidents of violence this year. We request space and time for them to appropriately grieve and come to terms with this latest impact of violence."

'I just started screaming'

Gunner told CNN Sunday that her family was usually traveling every weekend for some type of football-related activity.

Because Jaylon played on a summer travel football team, played in basketball and ran track, he didn't usually attend parties.

But May was slower, she said, so Jaylon had more free time.

Gunner said Jaylon was with friends Saturday night.

"They stopped by the party, not with any intentions to staying long," she said. They were there to pick up something from a friend, she said.

Around midnight she received a call from Jaylon's brother with the news.

"I just started screaming," she said. "I just prayed and asked the Lord not to take my baby."

Gunner said she and the family are having a hard time coming to terms with Jaylon's death.

"It's very hard," she said. "It's still like a bad dream, like I'm gonna wake up in the morning and my baby's gonna be smiling at me asking for something to eat like he always does."

Jaylon's first word was 'ball,' mother says

Jaylon was the youngest of five children, Gunner said.

The middle-schooler always loved football. His first word was "ball," according to his mother.

"He just loved the ball. From the moment he was able to walk and catch, he just wanted the ball," she said.

At 3, Jaylon was already getting up on Saturday mornings and dressing up like he was going to a game.

At 5, he started playing tackle football, his mother said.

"You could see the talent at 5, but at 6 it was like 'Wow where did this come from?' and each year he just got better and better," Gunner said.

When he first started playing, Jaylon wore No. 3 on his jersey, but he changed that to the No. 6 when he was 8 years old because he idolized De'Anthony Thomas, who played for Oregon and is now a receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs. Jaylon was also a fan of Tavon Austin and Odell Beckham Jr., his mother told CNN.

"He just loved to watch them and perfect his craft," Gunner said.

But there was more to Jaylon outside of football and sports, his mother said.

Jaylon was big on fashion and "loved to dress," Gunner said. He loved sneakers, video games, shopping and hanging out with his "select group of friends."

Gunner also said her son had a "beautiful smile" and was soft spoken.

"He wasn't a man of many words," she said. "He had a humbling personality. He wasn't very outgoing, but everybody knew him and loved him."

Politicians and athletes respond to Jaylon's death

Illinois Rep. LaToya Greenwood posted a tribute on Facebook about Jaylon.

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love. #JaylonMcKenzie"

Former NFL wide receiver Earl Bennett also tweeted his condolences.

"My heart and prayers goes out to Jaylon McKenzie family and friends. Matthew 5:4," he wrote. The scripture he cited reads: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 248189

Reported Deaths: 5411
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16841171
Hinds15890312
Harrison13037191
Rankin10439205
Jackson10128177
Lee8721135
Madison8071160
Jones6166108
Forrest5870117
Lauderdale5724177
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Lamar475363
Washington4734122
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Panola360475
Pontotoc358752
Monroe3487103
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Union337457
Marshall336065
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Leflore2980104
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Tate266659
Alcorn260651
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Pike258176
Hancock253557
Prentiss242450
Scott241043
Yazoo237754
Copiah237449
Tippah236246
Simpson232367
Leake227864
Coahoma223154
Grenada215770
Covington208871
Marion206171
Adams201666
Winston198061
George197438
Wayne196130
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Newton186542
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Tishomingo179659
Holmes167867
Jasper165134
Clay156732
Stone140218
Tallahatchie138234
Clarke136460
Calhoun133321
Smith118823
Yalobusha113834
Walthall111136
Noxubee109622
Greene108929
Montgomery108134
Carroll103721
Lawrence101217
Perry99131
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Webster90624
Claiborne85125
Tunica84521
Jefferson Davis83825
Humphreys81524
Benton80323
Kemper75720
Quitman6758
Franklin65315
Choctaw59613
Wilkinson58125
Jefferson53019
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1586
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 417528

Reported Deaths: 6030
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61313888
Mobile29768542
Madison26637185
Tuscaloosa20580268
Montgomery18696304
Shelby18310113
Baldwin16002179
Lee12261101
Morgan12093112
Etowah11604157
Calhoun10982200
Marshall10108107
Houston8474129
Cullman7960104
Limestone790174
Elmore7723101
DeKalb764697
St. Clair7460120
Lauderdale745183
Talladega6102108
Walker5852174
Jackson574441
Blount526483
Colbert525670
Autauga510355
Coffee434256
Dale391081
Franklin363445
Chilton333565
Covington326167
Russell323810
Escambia312442
Dallas300296
Clarke278233
Chambers277869
Tallapoosa2599107
Pike245829
Marion240549
Lawrence240447
Winston223835
Bibb213047
Geneva197431
Marengo197329
Pickens195231
Hale173742
Barbour171236
Butler167958
Fayette166026
Cherokee159630
Henry151119
Monroe144417
Randolph138535
Washington136526
Clay125246
Crenshaw118044
Lamar116619
Cleburne116023
Macon113335
Lowndes108735
Wilcox101221
Bullock98128
Perry95419
Conecuh92920
Sumter88726
Greene75323
Coosa60414
Choctaw51224
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