Jaylon McKenzie, 14, was shot when an unidentified person opened fire at an Illinois party

By Jason Duaine Hahn
May 10, 2019 01:58 PM
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Jaylon McKenzie Ezekiel Elliott
Credit: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic; Instagram

Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott plans to pay for the funeral of a 14-year-old football prodigy who was shot at a party in Illinois last weekend.

Middle schooler Jaylon McKenzie was killed on Saturday when an unidentified person opened fire at a party in Venice, Illinois, which took place after his eighth-grade dance, the Illinois State Police said. Emergency services attempted to save McKenzie and transported him to a local hospital, but the boy succumbed to his injuries shortly after arriving.

Shortly after, McKenzie’s mother, Sukeena Gunner, was approached by a person representing Elliott who said the NFL player wished to pay for her son’s funeral, she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Elliott has ties to the area where McKenzie lived in Belleville, and grew up in nearby Alton, the newspaper said.

“It’s so generous,” Gunner told the Post-Dispatch. “I remember Jaylon watching [Elliott] cross that [NFL Draft] stage and thinking: ‘I can do this,’ so it means a lot.”

McKenzie was a big fan of Elliott’s, Gunner explained and saw him as an illustration of how he, too, wanted to make an impact on the football field.

“When Ezekiel was playing, he would sit in front of the TV. His eyes were glued to the TV, watching him,” Gunner told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. ”Just for him to reach out to me and help me in this difficult time leaves me speechless.”

McKenzie 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.”

He 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, McKenzie told the Sports Illustrated that he hoped to go to college and then play for either the Los Angeles Rams or Chargers.

“Jaylon always said he’d be famous one day,” Gunner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “So I know that is what he would have wanted.”