May 6 (UPI) -- Illinois State police continued to look for suspects Monday as they asked the public for help in the weekend shooting death of a promising 14-year-old middle school athlete who had already received college football scholarship offers.
Sukeena Gunner said her son, Jaylon McKenzie, was attending a party with friends in Venice, Ill., after an eighth-grade dance when a fight broke out about 11:40 p.m. Saturday. McKenzie, who lives with his mother in Belleville, Ill., was hit by a stray bullet when the gunfire occurred, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.
McKenzie died just before midnight at Gateway Hospital in Granite City, Ill. State police asked for witnesses with information about the shooting to contact investigator Scott Wobbe at 618-381-1467.
East St. Louis School District 189 announced that counselors would be available Monday for students and staff in the shooting aftermath, KMOV-TV said. McKenzie dreamed of playing in the NFL and had received his first verbal college scholarship comments from the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois. He had recently visited the University of Southern California with his club team.
"It's so hard to fathom that someone took my baby from me because he dreamed so big," Gunner said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday. His father, Otis Gunner, said that his son appeared to be on the verge of following a dream that he had since a child. He was expected to attend state prep football power East St. Louis High School in the fall.
"Since he was a baby, that's what he wanted to do," Otis Gunner said. "He didn't get the chance to put on that blue and orange jersey, but that's what he wanted to do."The youth had not played in high school yet, but gained attention through football camps and participation in the eighth grade All-America football game at the NFL Hall of Fame in Ohio last year. After attending school in Belleville, he transferred to a school in East St. Louis this spring.
NFL star Adoree Jackson of the Tennessee Titans, who is from Belleville, shared his condolences in a Twitter post Sunday.
"You Was Next Up and taken too soon," Jackson wrote. "We have to do better.. Rest Easy."
Former NFL wide receiver Earl Bennett remembered McKenzie on social media Sunday.
"My heart and prayers go out to Jaylon McKenzie family and friends. Matthew 5:4," Bennett wrote.
Illinois State Rep. LaToya Greenwood shared a photo of her and McKenzie in her Facebook message.
"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," Greenwood wrote.