Kenny R. Coleman Jr. had his heart set on becoming a professional basketball or football player. He loved playing Minecraft, Call of Duty and Fortnite, and he was waiting on the new PlayStation 5.
But the 14-year-old Gainesville middle schooler never got the chance to reach 9th grade or see his 1-year-old sister grow up.
Kenny died the morning of Aug. 21 in South Florida Baptist Hospital in Tampa after being shot in the head. He was found on the 1800 Block of East Alabama Street, said Sgt. James Cross of Plant City Police Department, the police department in the area where he was found.
His death is still an active investigation, Cross said, adding that the police department is working with Alachua County Sheriff’s Office to understand why Kenny was in Plant City and how he got there.
There’s one thing Kenny’s family misses most — his signature laughter.
“The biggest piece missing is my house is quiet now, because he was the light of the house,” said Kenny’s mother, Candi Preston. “I just loved his personality, and I loved him. I couldn't ask for a better son.”
Preston filed a complaint about suspicious activity to ACSO the evening of Sept. 21, — a month after her son died, according to ACSO reports. According to reports, Preston told police a 19-year-old male drove by her home with a gun and mentioned something about Kenny. The suspect said “I got it on me” while referring to a handgun that he had tucked somewhere on his person.
Preston said someone who she didn’t know told her someone named Corey was responsible for her son’s death, according to reports. Neighbors screamed at ACSO officers as Preston became angry. She told the officers that it was the department’s fault her son died in Plant City, according to reports.
Preston still doesn’t have answers, starting with why Kenny was in Tampa. The mother of five, who lives in West Gainesville, said her son has never been to Tampa. He didn’t have a learner’s permit or driver’s license. ASCO reports allege that Preston believes he was tricked or forced to leave Gainesville against his will.
Kenny provided financial and moral support for his family, including his four sisters, aged 1, 4, 11 and 15, Preston said.
“He wanted to be in charge at home, like he wanted to take care of his mom and his four sisters,” she said laughing. “He was my second child. You couldn’t tell him he wasn’t the oldest.”
Like many young boys his age, Kenny’s true love was video gaming. While his mother only allowed him to play a few hours after school, she said he’d get in as many hours as possible.
But he also spent his time helping family and friends. Preston said Kenny would help his uncle cut lawns and do yard work in the Williston community.
“‘Mama, I’m gonna go cut these yards cause we need some money,’ That’s what he would say,” she said near a smile.
Kenny had neighborhood friends he would hang out with at his house after school, but he tended to stay to himself, she said. He never wanted to be the center of attention but was always willing to help a friend in need.
Preston remembers her son having heart-to-heart conversations with friends about their financial problems. After speaking with them, he offered to buy them McDonald’s if they were hungry.
Kenny would also give homeless people spare change or snacks, she said, sometimes even asking Preston if she had a dollar to spare.
When he was younger, he was hyperactive, so she said she tried to keep him busy.
She enrolled him in a little league football and basketball for the Williston Raiders while he attended M.K. Rawlings Elementary School. Two of his four sisters cheered on the teams he played for.
At Howard Bishop Middle School, Kenny played football in 6th grade, before transferring to Williston Middle High School in 7th grade.
Michael Gamble, principal of Howard Bishop, said Kenny’s death is a tragedy.
“Kind of a kid that tried to make the best of his circumstances,” Gamble said. “Of course, our hearts go out to the family.”
Kenny’s mother said she loves all her kids, but her connection with him was different.
“I keep them very close to me, just because I don’t trust the world we live in,” Preston said.
Kenny is survived by his mother Candi Preston, biological father Kenny Coleman Sr., four sisters and the man he considered his father William “Tyrese” Watson, who Kenny has known since he was two weeks old.
“There is a mother out there that is missing a son,” said ACSO spokesperson Frank Kinsey. “There are people out there that we know, know what happened, were witnesses, were involved in it. We need them to come forward.”
Like Preston, Kenny’s sisters are struggling not having their brother around to tease or guide them or giggling as he lays on the hood of his mother’s car to stall her from working.
“To have my 4 year old ask me why Kenny won’t wake up at his viewing is where a lot of my anger is coming from because I can’t explain it to her,” she said. “They were stripped of their only brother.”
Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay posted on Facebook asking Plant City and Gainesville residents to submit anonymous tips about Kenny’s case for a $5,000 reward.
Law enforcement asks that anyone with information about the investigation call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477 or ACSO 352-955-1818.