Jaylon McKenzie gained national attention in 2018 after playing in the NFL's 8th Grade All-American Game

By Harriet Sokmensuer
May 06, 2019 12:42 PM
Jaylon McKenzie
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An Illinois eighth-grader who was featured in Sports Illustrated as a promising football prospect was fatally shot at a party on Saturday night.

Jaylon McKenzie, 14, was at a party in Venice, Illinois, when an unidentified person opened fire, the Illinois State Police announced in a press release obtained by PEOPLE. When officers arrived at the party, they found two teenagers shot.

First responders attempted to save Jaylon and transported him to a local hospital, but shortly after arriving the teen succumbed to his injuries.

A 15-year-old girl was also injured and transported to the hospital. She remains in critical condition.

Jaylon was a celebrated up-and-coming football star. Last year, at 13 years old, he was featured in Sports Illustrated as one of six teens destined to “rule the future of sports.”

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Jaylon played running back, wide receiver and defensive back. He garnered national attention after catching five passes for 161 yards and scoring two touchdowns at the NFL’s 8th Grade All-American Game in 2018.

When asked what his dreams were, Jaylon told the magazine he hoped to go to college and then play for either the Los Angeles Rams or Chargers.

On the night of his slaying, Jaylon had gone to his eighth grade dance, his mother, Sukeena Gunner, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. At 8 p.m., she picked him up and brought him home, where he changed clothes and went to an after-party an hour later.

Shortly before midnight, Gunner said she heard her son’s friends were trying to reach her. When she called her son’s phone, one of the friends picked up and told her Jaylon had been shot.

Gunner told the paper her son talked often about attending a Division I college and playing in the NFL.

“He told me, ‘We’re going to make it, mama. We’re going to be good, mama,'” she said. “That was his dream. And I believe it would have come true if someone had not taken my baby away from me.”

No arrests have been made. Anyone with information is asked to call authorities at 618-381-1467.

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