When Roosevelt Davis Jr. entered East St. Louis Senior High School's track team, everyone around him knew he was going to be unstoppable.
His coaches and teammates called him "the animal," because that was his attitude about winning, said Earlest Johnson. Johnson met Davis through track, and while he never got a chance to coach him, the two became close. Davis called him his uncle, and would often stay at his house.
Davis was shot and killed Saturday afternoon near Cahokia outside the County Line Quick Shop on Camp Jackson Road. He was 21 years old.
"He was so full of life," Johnson said. "He didn't get a chance to be great in life, or learn from his mistakes. He was so young ... For someone who was so full of life, always happy-go-lucky. All the deaths we've had in East St. Louis, and it's still very very shocking."
Track was Davis' entire world, Johnson said. He stayed in school for track, and he left his family and two young daughters to go to Vincennes University to run track on a full scholarship.
He couldn't take being away from his family, though, and came back to the metro-east after one semester. With two young girls, the timing just wasn't right. He had planned to go back to school for the fall semester in 2018, Johnson said.
Davis adored his daughters, said Alexus Grant, the mother of his 2-year-old daughter, Royaltee. Royaltee doesn't understand what's going on, Grant said, but she calls for her daddy when she sees a photo of him. When Royaltee was born, Davis wanted to be there all the time with her, Grant said.
"I wouldn't wish this on nobody," Grant said. "The pain is unbearable."
In high school, Davis was the person to beat on the track, Johnson said. He made a name for himself, and was well-loved by his classmates and peers.
His coach since sixth grade, Ramon Johnson had seen Davis progress from a child to a talented, mature athlete. He remembers Davis holding their state championship trophy in 2016, something he had always dreamed of doing. Davis was the athlete who could run any event, and his coaches could be sure he would do well.
As he grew older, Davis started to mentor younger athletes, Ramon Johnson said. Seeing Davis' success made those younger than him look up to him, especially when he took the time to talk to them and give them pointers.
At graduation, Davis felt he needed to run one last time at the school, Earlest Johnson said. So in his church clothes and dress shoes, cap and gown flapping in the wind, he took off running across the stadium, toward the end zone. Graduation hadn't even ended, but he needed to run.
"The entire class stood up and ran behind him," Earlest Johnson said. "It was the biggest party in the end zone ... He was so full of life."
The community was taking Davis' death hard, Earlest Johnson said. It wasn't something anyone ever expected; track had kept Davis out of trouble, and he wasn't the type to be out on the streets. Ramon Johnson seconded that sentiment, saying his death has been devastating for everyone.
"As far as the community is, there's a lot of senseless violent acts going on," Ramon Johnson said. "At some point, it needs to stop. I hope this is an eye opener to the people under Roosevelt Davis, that when God gives you an opportunity to get away from that environment, to take that opportunity and make the most of it."
The Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis was activated to investigate Davis' death, and had not released any information about motive or suspects in the shooting as of Sunday afternoon.
"I don't know the situation, or what led to this, but no one deserves this type of punishment, especially him," Earlest Johnson said. "That was the worst phone call ever, one of the worse phone calls I could ever get ... He was far from perfect, but he was a wonderful kid."
The East St. Louis Flyers posted on Twitter about Davis's death, mourning the loss of the former athlete.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Davis was a part of the 4x400-meter relay that won a state title in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, and helped catapult East St. Louis' team to its state title in 2016.
"This is what we’ve worked so hard for the last four years. Today all the hours paid off,” Davis told the News-Democrat in 2016. "All we had to do was compete like we have all year and that’s what we did. What a way to end my high school career.”
His sophomore year, Davis came in eighth in the state in the 400-meter dash, and was a part of the champion 4x400-meter relay. He moved up in the rankings his junior years, coming in third in the 400-meter dash, and was on the champion 4x400-meter relay for the third year.
Davis' senior year, when East St. Louis won the state title, he came in fifth in the 200-meter dash, and was a part of the champion 4x100-meter relay and the 4x400-meter relay. His 4x200-meter relay came in second that year.
Davis was named to the all-area track and field team in 2016 for the three relays he was on.