Who was Jelani Day? Body of missing college student found in Illinois River

The body of missing college student Jelani Day was found near Illinois River (Image via Viviann L.W. Robinson/Facebook and Steve Harvey FM/Facebook)
The body of missing college student Jelani Day was found near Illinois River (Image via Viviann L.W. Robinson/Facebook and Steve Harvey FM/Facebook)
Barsha Roy

The body of college student Jelani Day was discovered near the Illinois River earlier this month. The corpse was recently identified as being of the student’s, nearly a month after he was reported missing.

The 25-year-old was last seen leaving his campus on August 24, 2021. That same day he was spotted at a dispensary in Bloomington. His family filed a missing report the following day after Jelani Day failed to appear in class.

On August 26, 2021, his vehicle was found in Peru, nearly 60 miles north of Bloomington. The Peru Police Department carried out extensive K9, ground and aerial search operations in the area.

On September 4, authorities found a dead male body floating near the south bank of the Illinois River.

#JELANIDAY was last seen on Aug. 24 entering the Beyond/Hello dispensary in Bloomington. Police said his 2019 Chrysler 300 was located Aug. 26 in the woods south of Peru's Illinois Valley YCMA, which is 60 miles north of Bloomington.

However, the body remained unidentified at the time. Meanwhile, Jelani Day’s family criticized authorities for not giving the required importance to the case, as compared to YouTuber Gabby Petito’s sensational missing investigation.

Jelani’s mother Carmen Bolden Day expressed her disappointment in the investigation during an interview with Newsy:

"I want them to look for my child like they're looking for her. He is not a nobody, he is somebody and I want him to come back home. I want them to give my son the same attention and it makes me mad because this young white girl is getting that attention and my young Black son is not.

His brother D’Andre Day also told NBC that the family wanted more legal attention on the missing case:

“I understand what [Petito’s] family is going through because we are going through that right now. Jelani just didn’t disappear. Somebody knows what happened. Somebody needs to report what happened. We need everybody involved, the same way they were involved with Gabby.”

Following public requests, the recovered corpse from the Illinois River was confirmed to be of Jelani Day’s. The coroner reportedly identified the body through forensic dental identification as well as DNA comparison and testing.

According to The Independent, John Fermon, Public Information Officer of Bloomington Police, dubbed the incident as “suspicious." He said:

“We can all agree that it was very suspicious, just unlike him. It was one of those things, was it foul play or not?”

He also addressed criticism from the student’s family, stating:

“A lot of our high-risk missing persons just here in the city don’t get the attention (they) deserve either. I’m happy this got out there. We’ll take the criticism.”

Jelani Day’s parents also issued an official statement about the tragic demise of their son:

"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.”

They also requested the public to support the family to find out the real reason behind Jelani Day’s death:

"Throughout these 30 days, our very first concern was finding Jelani, and now we need to find out #WhatHappenedToJelaniDay. At this moment there are more questions than answers surrounding Jelani’s disappearance and death, and that is where we will focus our energy. As of this moment, we do not know what happened to Jelani and we will not stop until we do."

No official cause of his death has been made available so far as authorities are currently awaiting toxicology results.

Jelani Day's family seeks help from the public to uncover truth about his death

Jelani Day was a 25-year-old college student in Illinois State University (Image via Larae Sunshine Bolden/Facebook)
Jelani Day was a 25-year-old college student in Illinois State University (Image via Larae Sunshine Bolden/Facebook)

Jelani Day was a graduate student at Illinois State University. He was an aspiring doctor and was studying masters of speech pathology at the university. The 25-year-old was in the first semester of college.

Unfortunately, the medical student went missing last month and was found dead by police authorities on September 4, 2021. As per Terri Kinzy, President of Illinois State University, Jelani Day was “intelligent” and “kind”:

"He joined his graduate program this summer and his impact on the campus community was immediate – he is remembered as kind, intelligent, and caring. Together, we mourn his loss. His family and friends are foremost in our thoughts during this difficult time and we extend our deepest condolences."

Meanwhile, his family continued to seek help from the public to find information about Jelani Day’s probable cause of death:

“This week we learned new evidence has been discovered and police are working new leads related to Jelani’s disappearance. This case is not closed and the investigation is not over. We STILL need people who have information to come forward. If you know anything about what happened to Jelani, or had contact with Jelani in the days and weeks before his disappearance, please contact Bloomington Police Detective Paul Jones.”

After the news of Jelani Day’s tragic demise came to light, several people took to social media to pay their tribute to the late college student and offer condolences to his family.

As investigations continue to take place, it is certain that Jelani Day will be missed by family and friends alike.

Edited by Prem Deshpande


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