Jelani Day, a 25-year-old graduate student at Illinois State University, was found dead in a river in Chicago a month after being reported missing. The cause of death is currently unknown as the family pleads with authorities for help in learning what happened to him.
After not showing up to class in Bloomington, Ill. on Aug. 25, his family, who last spoke with him two days prior on Aug. 23, reported him missing. According to authorities, he was last seen on campus on Aug. 24, and his car was found in Peru, Ill., on Aug. 26.
Searching his car and the surrounding area, officers were not able to uncover any clues to his whereabouts, until a body was reportedly found floating near the south bank of the Illinois River on Sep. 4, later matching Jelani Day’s DNA over a week later. Officers on the scene later said that clothes in Jelani Day’s car in Peru matched the outfit he was last seen wearing on Aug. 24.
The family still awaits the toxicology report from the LaSalle County coroners office as the search for answers.
According to ABC News, Jelani’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, said that she wanted to know why it took so long to find her boy, especially after seeing how many law enforcement resources were put into finding Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old white women who went missing and was later found dead.
Day’s case, she said, “did not get that involvement” because he was Black, adding that she also, “didn’t get that attention.”
“The Bloomington Police Department, I have been in frequent contact with them,” Jelani’s mother Carmen said. “However, there has been no urgency. There has not been the [same] drive to find Jelani.”
“He’s educated. He’s a productive citizen. And I can’t get nobody to look for my son, to provide us with those same resources, with that same help,” she said. “That’s all I’m asking for.”
Jelani Day, a masters student at Illinois State University, was studying speech pathology. Jelani Day’s family said that he had hoped to become a doctor.
“His dad actually has cancer and Jelani is the bone marrow match for his dad, and he would never abandon his father like that,” his cousin, Eriel Davis told ABC News. “He would come here in Chicago and visit him at Northwestern hospital, sit with him, you know, encourage him, pray with him.”
Eriel said that his disappearance and resulting death do not make any sense.
“We can all agree that it was very suspicious,” Bloomington Police Department Officer John Fermon said on Thursday, and “unlike him” to disappear for days on end.
Officer Fermon said that the investigation is still ongoing, and that the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office, who found Jelani Day’s body, is still searching to information as well.
“There are no words to clearly communicate our devastation… our hearts are broken,” the family wrote in an announcement to friends and loved ones. “We ask that you continue to pray for our family during what will be very hard days ahead.”
“At this moment there are more questions than answers surrounding Jelani’s disappearance and death, and that is where we will focus our energy,”the family’s statement continued. “As of this moment, we do not know what happened to Jelani and we will not stop until we do. #WhatHappenedToJelaniDay.”
“Thank you to every single person who has thought about, prayed for, talked about, and searched for Jelani,” the family wrote. “The love you’ve shown our family has sustained us and we will definitely need you even more in the days to come. We love each and every one of you for making Jelani’s story personal.”