Twenty-five-year-old Jelani Day was a graduate student studying to get his master’s in speech pathology at Illinois State University. He was last seen Aug. 24 and hasn’t been heard from since.
But unfortunately, after weeks of searching, Day’s body has been identified as the man pulled from the Illinois River earlier this month. According to NBC, his identity was determined using “forensic dental identification and DNA testing.”
The cause of death is unknown pending further investigation and toxicology testing, according to a multi-agency press release.
Day’s body was spotted on September 4th. He had been reported missing by a professor and his family.
Bloomington Police public information officer John Fermon could not address the reasons why it took nearly three weeks for a positive identification, but he indicated there is a backlog at the Illinois State Police crime lab. The State Police Division of Forensic Services has declined to comment, citing its policy on open cases.
“A lot of our high-risk missing persons just here in the city don’t get the attention (they) deserve either,” Fermon said. “I’m happy this got out there. We’ll take the criticism.”
Jelani’s body was in the portion of the river near a suburb in the Southwest area of Chicago called Peru. His car was allegedly found in the area shortly after he disappeared on August 24.
He was captured on a commercial surveillance video days before in nearby Bloomington. The clothes he was wearing in that clip were reportedly found in his car.
The lack of media attention surrounding Day’s disappearance caused outrage on social media. Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, condemned law enforcement and the press for failing to meet her missing son with the same zealous attention shown to select other missing persons.
Gabby Petito, a young white woman who was reported missing when her boyfriend returned from their road trip on his own, was searched for in a huge coordinated effort by a number of law enforcement departments. Her disappearance was also reported by a number of national news outlets.
A grassroots effort to find Day took off on social media and Lizzo supported the efforts by amplifying the hashtag #FindJelaniDay.
Jelani had aspired to become a speech pathologist his mother said and was on track to doing so. Bolden Day believes foul play played a role in the death of her son.
“My son wasn’t involved in the streets,” Day’s mother said, choking up. “He wasn’t a gang banger… That could have been the narrative, then it would have been, well, let’s forget about him. But he was a productive citizen. I raised a good young man. And somebody did this to him.”
On Thursday afternoon, Bolden-Day released the following statement on social media.
“There are no words to clearly communicate our devastation. We learned this morning from the LaSalle County Coroner the deceased man found in Peru, IL on Saturday, September 4 is Jelani. Our hearts are broken. We ask that you continue to pray for our family during what will be very hard days ahead. Throughout these 30 days, our very first concern was finding Jelani, and now we need to find out #WhatHappenedToJelaniDay.”
The family has reportedly retained private investigation services to find out what happened to their loved one.
Ongoing Cases of Black & Brown Children Gone Missing
Unfortunately for many families whose missing loved one is a person of color, that opportunity for closure is rare.
Weymouth’s Angel Viera, 14, was last seen Dec. 22, 2020. Donald Sampson was reported missing by his sister in Randolph 10 years ago and hasn’t been found. Kency Diaz-Siguaque, who would now be 20, has been missing from Attleboro since Nov. 16, 2017.
“Blacks on average remain missing longer and are more likely to still be missing by the end of our observation period than non-Black children,” according to a study by