- Last November, Jaylon McKenzie was featured in Sports Illustrated’s Future Issue alongside five other young athletes.
- The 14-year-old was a football prodigy who had been recruited by colleges in the eighth grade. He had ambitions of playing in the NFL.
- Police say he was shot and killed on Saturday night when a stray bullet hit him at a party.
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Last November, Jaylon McKenzie, a 14-year-old from Belleville, Illinois, was featured in Sports Illustrated’s Future Issue as one of “Six Teens Who Will Rule the Future in Sports.” The eighth-grader spoke of his aspirations to play for the NFL one day.
McKenzie told the magazine that by 2030, his dream was to be a star in Los Angeles – “for the Rams or the Chargers.”
Before he started high school, colleges had begun to recruit him for their programs, KMOV reported. In August, he played in the NFL’s eighth-grade All-American Game in Canton, Ohio.
But on Saturday night McKenzie was fatally shot a party, CNN reported.
The Illinois State Police said in a news release that several law-enforcement agencies responded to a report of a disturbance and shots fired at “a large party” in Venice, Illinois, at 11:40 p.m.
When law enforcement arrived, they found that two people had been shot, Mckenzie and a 15-year-old girl, who had not yet been identified. Officers “began life-saving measures” before the victims were transported to local hospitals.
According to the release, McKenzie died shortly after arriving at the hospital. The 15-year-old girl remains in critical condition. No other people are believed to have been injured, and the incident remains under investigation, police said.
McKenzie’s mother, Sukeena Gunner, told CNN her son was attempting to leave the party when a fight erupted. According to Gunner, that’s when a stray bullet hit the 14-year-old boy.
“It’s very hard,” she told CNN of her son’s death. “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.”
East St. Louis School District 189, where McKenzie attended school, said in a statement on Sunday that “a few of our students were shot at a house party.”
“Our youth, families and school staff have dealt with a number of tragedies and incidents of violence this year,” the statement said. “We request space and time for them to appropriately grieve and come to terms with this latest impact of violence.”
The statement said crisis teams would be present at the school to offer counseling services to students and staff following the shooting. “We send our prayers to the families impacted by this violence and hope for healing for the victims,” the statement said.
McKenzie’s father, Otis Gunner, told KMOV that his son had a passion for football since his early childhood and was looking forward to the upcoming season in the fall – what would have been his first with East St. Louis High School.
“Since he was a baby that’s what he wanted to do,” Gunner told the CBS affiliate. “He didn’t get the chance to put on that blue-and-orange jersey, but that’s what he wanted to do.”
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