CHICAGO (CBS) — Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has stepped forward to pay for the funeral of Jaylon McKenzie, an eighth-grade football prodigy from central Illinois, who was killed by a stray bullet last weekend at a party near St. Louis.
Jaylon, a 14-year-old football star at Mason-Clark Middle School in East St. Louis, was attending a party in nearby Venice on Saturday, when a fight broke out.
The teenager from Belleville was leaving the party when he and a 15-year-old girl were struck by stray bullets. Jaylon later died at the hospital. The girl was critically wounded.
ESPN reports the tragedy struck a personal tone with Elliott, who grew up in St. Louis, and that he reached out to the McKenzie family when he learned of the story. The Cowboys confirmed Elliott’s gesture and said he plans to keep his communications with Jaylon’s family private.
Despite not yet being in high school, Jaylon already had received scholarship offers from the University of Illinois and the University of Missouri.
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. He later was featured in Sports Illustrated, on a list of six teen athletes who the magazine said would rule the future of sports.
“The support that we’ve been getting makes it a little bit easier,” said Jaylon’s father, Otis Gunner. “I didn’t know my son touched this many people. Wow.”
Jaylon’s mother said he often watched Elliott on TV so he could improve as a football player. His dream was to star in the NFL in Los Angeles, for the Rams or the Chargers.
A GoFundMe page has also been set up to help pay for the family’s expenses. It has raised more than $1,500 in two days.