A middle school football player, who had dreams to play in the NFL and was named by Sports Illustrated as someone who "will rule the future in sports," was killed by a stray bullet at a party over the weekend.
Jaylon McKenzie, 14, a student at Mason Clark Middle School in East St. Louis, Illinois, was at a house party late Saturday night in Venice, Illinois, when he was killed.
His mother, Sukeena Gunner, told NBC-affiliate KSDK that a fight broke out shortly before the shooting and that her son was outside trying to leave when he was struck by the bullet.
"My baby had such a promising future," Gunner said, calling the shooting "senseless."
"He didn't say much, but he just drew people to him with his smile, with his personality," she said.
Illinois State Police said they received a call around 11:40 p.m. that several people had been shot at a large party. McKenzie and an unidentified 15-year-old girl were found injured and in need of medical care at the home.
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"Officers immediately began life-saving measures before both victims were transported from the scene to area hospitals," the department said in a press release.
McKenzie, of Belleville, was pronounced dead at the hospital. The other victim is in critical condition.
McKenzie was only in the eighth grade but had already become a star in his community and caught the sports world's attention. In a November 2018 article in Sports Illustrated magazine, which highlighted six teenagers expected to dominate in the future, the publication predicted that McKenzie would make headlines for his athletic abilities "for years (and decades) to come."
According to the magazine, McKenzie, who played running back, wide receiver and defensive back, had plans of going to the National Football League and said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Tennessee Titans player Adoree' Jackson, who is also from the city McKenzie lived in.
Jackson mourned the teenager's death writing in a tweet Sunday: "You Was Next Up and taken too soon! We have to do better.. Rest Easy."
East St. Louis School District 189 said the teen was also one of 15 eighth-grade students selected to participate in the NFL Hall of Fame All-American All-Star Game and had reportedly already received at least one college football scholarship offer from the University of Missouri.
"We mourn with the families of the deceased and the injured of this tragedy. Our prayers are uplifted for the families impacted by this violence as we hope for healing for the remaining victims," the district said.
Police have made no arrests and said they do not believe anyone else was injured in the shooting, but the district said in a tweet Sunday that a few of their students had been shot and crisis teams would be available Monday.
McKenzie was also a star on the basketball court, his former coach, Al Lewis, told KSDK.
"Outside of basketball, outside of football, he was just a great kid," Lewis said.
Former NFL player Earl Bennett also posted a tribute to McKenzie on Twitter.
"My heart and prayers goes out to Jaylon McKenzie family and friends," he wrote.
Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, wrote on Facebook: "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."