Illinois State University

Jelani Day Case: Body Found in Illinois River Identified as Missing ISU Grad Student

Jelani Day's mother said it’s not like him to disappear without telling someone about his whereabouts.

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Police confirmed Thursday that a body found earlier this month is that of Jelani Day, an Illinois State University graduate student who was previously reported missing. NBC 5’s Vi Nguyen has the story.

A body found earlier this month in the Illinois River near Peru, a far southwest Chicago suburb, has been identified as Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day, authorities said.

The LaSalle County Coroner reported the body discovered on Sept. 4 "floating near the south bank of the Illinois River approximately ¼ mile east of the Illinois Rt. 251 Bridge," was identified Thursday as Day, a 25-year-old reported missing in late August.

The cause of death was not immediately known and was pending further investigation and toxicology testing, the coroner's office said.

"Our hearts are broken," Day's family said in a statement. "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. 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."

The body was first discovered weeks earlier, near where Day's car was found shortly after he was reported missing, but officials said identification could take weeks or months due to the condition of the body.

"We’ve given them DNA so they can identify the body," Day's mother Carmen Bolden Day told NBC Chicago this week. "However what I was told that the crime lab does not have the solution that they need to process the DNA."

Police investigating the disappearance of an Illinois State University graduate student are asking the public for tips as the search for the young man continues nearly a month after he vanished.

The LaSalle County coroner's office said while the body was determined to be a man's body, it remained unidentified as of Wednesday. The office said at the time its investigation into the identity was "separate" from the investigation into Day's disappearance, though they did not elaborate.

Day disappeared on Aug. 24 and hadn't been seen since. His car was found two days later in a wooded area near where the body was discovered, miles from where he was last seen.

His family and a professor reported him missing on Aug. 25 after he did not show up for class for several days.

The morning prior, Day was captured on surveillance video going into a dispensary in Bloomington. Two days later, police found his car in the woods 60 miles away in Peru, Illinois. Police said the clothes he was last seen wearing in the surveillance video were found in his white Chrysler 300.

Day's mother, Carmen Bolden Day, said it was not like him to disappear without telling someone about his whereabouts.

“I need him to come home so that he could continue his journey of becoming Dr. Jelani Day,” Bolden said at the time.

Police say Day disappeared under "unexplained suspicious circumstances."

Bolden said she doesn’t think her son ran away and believes someone may have hurt her son.

"He wasn’t depressed. He didn’t have any kind of pressures that would make him want to escape from life," she said. "So I do feel as if there was someone involved."

Day's family has criticized the investigation into the grad student's disappearance, saying the young Black man has not received the attention of other missing persons like that of Gabby Petito, whose disappearance and subsequent death made national headlines and spawned a multi-state search from numerous law enforcement departments.

On Monday, police investigating Day's disappearance asked the public for tips once again as the search for the young man continued nearly a month after he vanished.

Members of Day’s family, who live in Danville, have offered $25,000 for the man’s return. An online GoFundMe campaign has added $9,000 to that total.

Celebrity musician Lizzo also shared a TikTok Tuesday on Day's disappearance, calling attention to the investigation.

Family members have also called for FBI help in the case.

A spokesperson for the FBI's Springfield office said they have been in communication with Bloomington police "for several weeks," but declined to comment further on their involvement.

Day graduated from Alabama A&M University with a degree in speech language pathology. Bolden said her son was inspired to go down this career path after seeing a friend struggle.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press