Body Found in Illinois River Identified as Missing Student Jelani Day — Details

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Sep. 24 2021, Published 2:44 p.m. ET

Social media has long argued about the lack of media attention surrounding missing Black and Brown people. With the news of the late Gabby Petito spreading like wildfire and gaining national media attention, many people believe that there is a prejudice against people of color. And that belief has intensified with the tragic death of Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day.

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The 25-year-old, who was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, was first reported missing on Aug. 23, 2021. However, Jelani being missing didn’t make national headlines until his mother, Carmen Bolden Day, went to the press. Unfortunately, on Sept. 23, 2021, reports shared that a body found in the Illinois River was identified as Jelani Day. Now, Jelani’s family and social media alike want to know the cause of his death. Here’s what we know.

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Jelani Day’s cause of death has yet to be released.

Per a press release obtained by KWQC, the LaSalle County Coroner’s office shares that Jelani’s cause of death is currently unknown and is pending further investigation and toxicology testing.

According to the press release, authorities say that his “family had last spoken to him in the evening hours of Monday, August 23, 2021. Jelani was last seen at the Illinois State University campus on August 24, 2021, and his last known location was at Beyond Hello, in Bloomington, Tuesday morning, at 9:21 a.m.”

As the outlet notes, law enforcement found Jelani’s vehicle in Peru, Ill., on Aug. 26, 2021. And based on what the Peru Police Department discovered, an extensive search led by several agencies was conducted. But, they were unable to find Jelani.

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An additional search on Sept. 4, 2021, in the LaSalle Peru area produced the body of an identified male that was recovered near the "south bank of the Illinois River, approximately ¼ mile east of the Illinois Rt. 251 Bridge." The body was later identified on Sept. 23, 2021, through “forensic dental identification and DNA testing and comparison,” according to the press release.

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Although Jelani's cause of death is unknown, authorities believe that his death is unusual.

“Foul play or not, it’s unusual,” John Fermon of the Bloomington Police Department told WCIA. “Just right off the bat it was unusual. Do I want to say that it was foul play suspected, we don’t know. It was just so unusual and somewhat suspicious that it just kind of peaked our interest of 'Hey, this is not normally how a missing persons case goes.'"

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Carmen Bolden Day, Jelani Day’s mother, has called out authorities for mishandling the investigation of his disappearance.

On Sept. 20, 2021, Carmen Bolden Day, Jelani’s mother, spoke with Newsy Tonight host Chance Seales to ask the public for help and to speak about how police have been handling Jelani’s case.

“I was very frustrated with the fact that Jelani hadn’t been getting the coverage,” Carmen said. “Jelani’s been missing for 24 days and like I said, it seems like the effort to find him has slacked down. I know about Gabby, the missing girl, and she’s been missing for two days, and her face is plastered everywhere, and the FBI is involved, and I do not understand why Jelani doesn’t get that same coverage.”

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Carmen also shared that police weren't telling her and the family much, despite constantly asking for information.

On Sept, 22, 2021, Carmen spoke with Newsy Tonight for a second time about searching for answers in Jelani’s disappearance. Carmen shared that Sept. 22 was the first time she heard from the Peru Police Department since Sept.4. She went on to share that authorities wanted her to identify “some clothing that was found along the river bank” where at the time, the unidentified man was found.

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Carmen called out authorities for being rude to her and acting like she was bothering them for inquiring about the investigation.

“The coroner today was so disrespectful to me because I asked questions,” Carmen says. “ He even told me that he was angry with me and said, ‘Did I want to find out if this was [Jelani] or not?’ This is how I’ve been treated.’’

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In a statement (via NBC Chicago) released on Sept. 23, Jelani's family asked the public to pray for their family and expressed that they "do not know what happened to Jelani" and will not stop searching until they do.

"This week we learned new evidence has been discovered and police are working on new leads related to Jelani’s disappearance. This case is not closed and the investigation is not over," the family said in a statement.

No parent should have to endure this kind of heartbreak. As of now, the investigation is ongoing as authorities try to figure out the cause of Jelani’s death. At this time, we would like to give our deepest condolences to the loved ones of Jelani Day.

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