Jaylon McKenzie was at an after-party for a school dance when he was shot dead amid a fight. His mother still can't believe her son who had so many big dreams is gone.
The 14-year-old eighth-grader was the only fatality of the Saturday night shooting. A 15-year-old girl who was also hit is in critical condition at a hospital.
McKenzie's mother is still in shock at what happened at the party that took place in Venice, Illinois. Earlier on Saturday, she had dropped off and collected her son as he attended the eighth-grade dance.
He was meant to collect something from a friend at the after-party, not even planning to stay long. Just before midnight, however, mother Sukeena Gunner got word that her son's friends were attempting to reach her.
She spoke to one of them via McKenzie's phone, and he told her her son was shot. McKenzie died soon after reaching the hospital. The Illinois police are still investigating the events of that night.
McKenzie's mother said she screamed and "prayed and asked the Lord not to take [her] baby." Her son had dreams of playing for either the Los Angeles Rams or Chargers, but now his light was out.
The 14-year-old was a promising football player, and he could also play basketball skilfully. In the Sports Illustrated magazine that featured him last year, McKenzie was among just six teens listed to "rule the future of sports."
He was already getting offers from colleges to enter their Division One programs. The University of Missouri and the University of Illinois had already shown interest, as displayed by McKenzie on his Twitter.
According to Gunner, her son's first word was "ball." She said: “He told me, ‘We’re going to make it, mama. We’re going to be good, mama.' That was his dream. And I believe it would have come true if someone had not taken my baby away from me.”
McKenzie had experience as a running back, defensive back, and a wide receiver. His record includes catching five passes over 161 yards and making two touchdown plays.
In an interview with CNN, Gunner said:
"It's very hard. 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."
She described her son as not only a football player but someone who "loved to dress, loved sneakers, video games, shopping, and hanging out with [friends.]"
She continued :
"He wasn't a man of many words. He had a humbling personality. He wasn't very outgoing, but everybody knew him and loved him."
McKenzie's former basketball coach agreed. He called the boy a "great kid" about whom no one had anything negative to say. "He treated everybody the same," he explained. McKenzie's idol Adoree Jackson also paid tribute.
Another rising football star and a teenager who passed away was Ryan Evans. At 18, Evans played striker position on the Mansfield Town Football Club. His life was cut short unexpectedly when he died at his home in June 2018.
Evans had just received a spot on the U21 squad days before his untimely death. He was captain of his team and received many tributary messages upon his death.
Our condolences and hearts go out to the family of Evans as well as McKenzie. Their losses are not just to do with who their boys might have been, but who they were for their family now: sources of hope and determination.