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Family remembers West Valley shooting victim as a 'gentle giant'

NORTH SALT LAKE — At a family reunion, you could usually find Neko Jardine at the kids' table.

The 19-year-old, who was shot and killed Sunday night outside a home in West Valley City, is remembered by his family as a "gentle giant" who loved football and playing with his younger cousins.

While the other boys his age played football or basketball at family gatherings, Jardine could always be found with the smaller kids, letting them climb on him and wrestle him to the ground.

"He was a big, strong football player, but his heart was with the family and with the kids," one of Jardine's cousins, Stefie Munk, said. "The little kids loved him and he was a good role model."

On Thursday evening, Munk and other family members gathered in North Salt Lake to remember their cousin. The younger children wore shirts with the number 44 on them — Jardine's number when he played for the Kearns High School football team — as they played in the yard.

"Family meant everything to him," Munk said. "He was just a good kid who loved family and loved having fun."

Munk and another cousin, Shiloh Willey, recalled a time when a baby in the family was crying. The female relatives passed the baby around, trying to comfort her, but she kept crying — until Jardine picked her up.

"It was just so cute," said Willey, who described Jardine as a "baby-whisperer."

A GoFundMe page was started for Jardine's family on Monday to help with medical and funeral expenses.

Police say Jardine was attending a party at the house at 5625 W. 4360 South at the time of the shooting. He and others were inside the house when two cars pulled up and called for the group to come outside.

Investigators believe the people in the cars were involved in an ongoing dispute with someone who lived at the house but wasn't home at the time, West Valley police spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku said Monday.

Words were exchanged between the two groups, police say, and the confrontation escalated into violence. Two other people were injured as well: one was shot, and the other was treated for a cut.

Jardine's family says he was shot after he tried to keep his cousins from getting in a fight.

He was taken to the hospital by one of his cousins, relatives said, and it was there that he died of his injuries.

As of Thursday evening there were no arrests in Jardine's death, but police on Tuesday released photos of a car they believe is related to the shooting. The car is a red sedan, police said, possibly a Nissan Altima or Maxima. Police are asking anybody with information about the car or Jardine's death to call 801-840-4000.