Toddler Killed in East St. Louis

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In St. Louis County, 15-month-old Jay’lah Keith was killed after two boys were playing inside a vehicle and accidentally ran over the toddler.

On May 19, 2013 at about 4:00 p.m., one of the two boys involved had taken his mother’s keys without her knowledge, accidentally shifted the car in drive and rolled forward over the toddler. Jay’lah was standing at the edge of the front yard when the car ran over her, police and relatives said. After the car began to roll from the gravel driveway into North Seventh Street, the boys, ages 11 and 12, jumped out of the car to try and help Jay’lah. The car rolled into a telephone pole across the street and stopped.

Elverita Graham, Jay’lah’s grandmother, said that her parents and three siblings live in Belleville as they were visiting her on Saturdays as they regularly do. Elverita said she was resting on her couch when she heard Jay’lah screaming outside. Jay’lah’s father brought her inside to get her help and to call 911.

Juvenile detectives were questioning the boys, but Police Chief Michael Floore called the incident an accident.

Elverita Graham said earlier in the day that she doesn’t blame anyone for what happened. “It was an accident and I don’t want to see them punished,” she said. “They’re young and they’ve got their whole lives ahead of them. I know they didn’t mean to do it. It’s just a horrible situation for everybody.” She said she hopes Jay’lah’s death teaches the boys a lesson that “everything has consequences and you have to think before you act.”

On Sunday night, memorial candles were placed to spell out the letters of baby Jay’lah’s name at a vigil outside the Gompers housing complex where the accident occurred. About 175 friends, relatives and neighbors gathered around the parents — Whitney Cole, 24, and Marseani Keith, 23 — to offer support and prayers. Some shouted out of words of comfort and one woman sang a gospel song as the sun began to set.

A cross with pink and white flowers was planted in the ground along with a growing pile of stuffed teddy bears, toy bunnies and a doll. A photo of the SIUE Early Head Start activity notebook was posted with a picture of the baby and her mother.

Whitney Cole, Jay’lah’s mother, urged the community to watch the young children especially carefully.

“This is an eye opener,” she said. “Watch the babies, we don’t know what they’ll do until it happens,'” she said.

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