BELLEVILLE, Ill. (KMOV.com) – The family of a rising football star who was killed in the Metro East says support from around the country is helping them get through a difficult time.
Jaylon McKenzie, 14, was hit by a stray bullet after an eighth-grade dance in Venice, Illinois Saturday night. He was an eighth grader at Mason-Clark Middle School and was already receiving attention from colleges for his skills on the football field.
His family says they wish they could rewind to times such as when they wore matching t-shirts ahead of Jaylon’s first game of the season.
“Our shirts say ‘It’s a team Jaylon thing, you wouldn’t understand,” said his mother Sukenna Gunner.
“We never missed a game, never missed a track meet, never missed a basketball game, all of it, we were there,” said his father Otis Gunner.
They were there for every touchdown, goal and finish line he crossed, but Jaylon’s brother Brendan Jenkins says its not the big wins but the little moments he misses the most.
“I just remember everyday going in his room to wake him up for school and he’s looking at me like ‘just get out, I’ll get up when I want,” Brendan said. “It hurts to know that I can’t do it anymore, I’m going to miss him.”
Jaylon’s family that was always focused on supporting him is now leaning on others for that same strength.
“The support that we’ve been getting makes it a little bit easier,” said Otis.
Tributes are pouring in from around the country, highlighting that a teen was robbed of a promising football career and high school diploma.
“I didn’t know my son touched this many people,” said Otis.
The tragic shooting struck a chord with St. Louis native and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. He has offered to cover the cost of Jaylon’s funeral.
“Words couldn’t express how we feel about that. It’s just crazy he didn’t have to do that,” said Otis
A GoFundMe page has also been set up to help pay for the family’s expenses.
A memorial service will be held Saturday May 18 at 12:00 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Masonic Bodies, located at 1549 Frank Scott Parkway in Belleville.
Representatives for Elliott say he wants to keep his donation private.
A vigil will be held for Jaylon at East St. Louis's high school football stadium on May 15 at 5:00 p.m.