EAST ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Fines Cole Sr. hugged the crying boys inside the East St. Louis police station and told them everything would be OK.
Cole’s 15-month-old granddaughter, Jay’lah Keith, was run over and killed Saturday by a car the two boys had been playing in outside the Gompers housing complex here. Police said one of the boys had taken his mother’s keys without her knowledge, accidentally shifted the car into drive and rolled forward over the toddler.
“Boys will be boys,” Cole Sr., 54, said. “They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. I feel sorry for the kids. They gotta live with that the rest of their lives.”
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 a gravel driveway into North Seventh Street, the boys jumped out of the car to try to help her. The car rolled into a telephone pole across the street and stopped.
“They panicked,” said family friend Sherwin Haywood, 56, who lives in the housing complex. “They didn’t know what to do.”
Jay’lah’s grandmother, Elverita Graham, 56, said Jay’lah, her parents and three siblings live in Belleville, Mo., and were visiting Graham on Saturday as they regularly do. Graham 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. Graham said 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.”
Graham said Jay’lah was an energetic toddler who could quickly find trouble if someone wasn’t watching her.
“Jay’lah had spirit,” she said. “If you turned your back on her, she was into something else.”
Graham said she will miss Jay’lah but trusts God is taking care of her.
“When I rocked her to sleep, she would hug on my neck and feel my face,” she said. “I just loved her. I loved her. While she’s up there with God, I hope he loves her just as much as I did.”
Jay’lah had a 3-month old brother, Jay-lee, and two sisters, Shaniyah Wilson, 8, and Mariyah Keith, 4, Graham said. The family was waiting for authorities to return her body before making funeral arrangements.
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