14-year-old Jaylon McKenzie from Belleville, Illinois, was an 8th-grade scholar and football player who already had offers from University of Missouri and University of Illinois with aspirations to play in the NFL for either the Los Angeles Rams or Chargers. McKenzie was even featured in the Future Issue of Sports Illustrated in November 2018.
However, Jaylon was senselessly shot and killed leaving a party over the weekend. Illinois State Police responded to reports of a disturbance and shots fired at a large party in Venice, IL around 11:40 pm. A fight broke out at the party and shots were fired, as Jaylon and a female friend walked outside to leave. The two were struck and taken to a nearby hospital, where Jaylon died shortly after. According to reports, the girl remains in critical condition.
Jaylon’s mother Sukeena Gunner told CNN that typically their family traveled every weekend for some type of football-related activity and that because Jaylon played football, basketball and ran track; he didn’t usually attend parties. But since May is a slow month, he had more free time and decided to hang out with friends that evening.
“They stopped by the party, not with any intentions to staying long. They were there to pick up something from a friend”, she said.
She received a call from Jaylon’s brother around midnight with the horrible news.
“I just started screaming. I just prayed and asked the Lord not to take my baby.”
Gunner recalled when her son started playing football; he wore No. 3 on his jersey, but changed to No. 6 when he was eight because he idolized Kansas Chiefs receiver, De’Anthony Thomas. She said Jaylon was also a fan of Tavon Austin and Odell Beckham Jr. “He just loved to watch them and perfect his craft,” Gunner said.
East St. Louis School District 189, where Jaylon was a student, released a statement confirming a number of their students were victims in the shooting. “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. 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.”
Illinois Rep. LaToya Greenwood posted a tribute to Jaylon via Facebook that read, “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 tweeted his condolences as well, “My heart and prayers go out to Jaylon McKenzie family and friends.” Then quotes scripture Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Many prayers for the family and friends of Jaylon McKenzie 🙏🏾