CHICAGO (CBS/CNN) — Jaylon McKenzie, a 14-year-old football star from Belleville, Illinois, already had scholarship offers from the University of Illinois and the University of Missouri, and dreamed of playing in the NFL, but those dreams were shattered this weekend, when he was shot and killed at a party near St. Louis.
The 8th grader was hit by stray gunfire Saturday night in Venice, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. He was leaving a post-prom party after a fight broke out.
Police said they found Jaylon and a 15-year-old girl with serious wounds. Jaylon later died at the hospital. The girl is in critical condition.
Jaylon made national headlines last August, when he caught five passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns at the NFL Hall of Fame All-American Eighth Grade All-star Game in Canton, Ohio.
Illinois Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) posted a tribute on Facebook about Jaylon, including a picture of the two of them together after Jaylon was featured in Sports Illustrated in November.
“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 Chicago Bears 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.”
A student at Mason-Clark Middle School in East St. Louis, Jaylon wanted to play in the NFL in California, for either the Los Angeles Rams or Los Angeles Chargers.
His mother, Sukeena Gunner, told CNN 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 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.”
No one was in custody Monday morning. Illinois State Police asked anyone who witnessed the shooting to call investigators at 618-381-1467.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The CNN Wire contributed to this report.)