8th-Grade Football Star Featured in Sports Illustrated Shot Dead at Party

Jaylon McKenzie was 14
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 6, 2019 4:40 AM CDT
8th-Grade Football Sensation Shot Dead
   (Getty Images/Zeferli)

(Newser) – In November, Sports Illustrated featured 14-year-old football sensation Jaylon McKenzie as one of "Six Teens Who Will Rule the Future in Sports." Less than six months later, he was dead. Police say the eighth-grader was fatally shot after leaving a party in the southern Illinois city of Venice Saturday night. Mother Sukeena Gunner tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that witnesses told her Jaylon was hit by a stray bullet after a fight broke out and he left the party to avoid it. "It’s so hard to fathom that someone took my baby from me because he dreamed so big," she says. Police say a 15-year-old girl was critically injured by stray gunfire.

Family members say Jaylon, who went to Mason-Clark Middle School in East St. Louis, had already received scholarship offers from the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois."He's supposed to bury me, I'm not supposed to bury him," father Otis Gunner tells KMOV. He says this fall, Jaylon—who played running back, receiver, and defensive back—would have fufilled his dream of playing football at East St. Louis High School. "Since he was a baby that’s what he wanted to do," the father says. "He didn’t get the chance to put on that blue and orange jersey but that’s what he wanted to do." Police, who say no arrests have been made, have put out an appeal for information. (Read more football player stories.)

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