Jelani Day

Coroner Responds to Recent Reports in Jelani Day Case, Cause of Death Still a Mystery

The latest update from Day's family includes a statement from his mother, Carmen Bolden Day, who said "some things need and have to be clarified"

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Details surrounding what exactly happened to Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day are scarce, but answers are "still going to take some time," according to the coroner.

LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch told NBC 5 in a statement Tuesday that Day's cause and manner of death are still not known, more than a month after his body was discovered in the Illinois River following what police said were "suspicious" and "unusual" circumstances.

The coroner reported Day's body was discovered on Sept. 4 "floating near the south bank of the Illinois River approximately ¼ mile east of the Illinois Rt. 251 Bridge."

The cause and manner of death are still awaiting toxicology and histology reports, Ploch said.

Even after that, however, Ploch said he still needs "the police agencies to help with the big piece on how he came to be in the water."

Ploch also clarified recent reports that organs were missing during an independent autopsy ordered by Day's family.

Ploch told NBC 5 "some [organs] were severely decomposed due to the body being in the water," but none were missing.

Day's mother echoed that fact this week, saying that while the search for answers continues following the suspicious death of her son, there are some recent reports she felt needed clarifying.

"Family, We need to hit pause for a moment," a post on a Facebook page seeking justice for Day read Monday. "As outraged and upset as we are, we must stay the course, and stick to the facts in our search for answers."

Day disappeared on Aug. 24 and was reported missing soon after by his family and a professor. His car was found two days later in a wooded area near where his body was ultimately discovered in the Illinois River under what police have said were "unusual" circumstances."

The latest update from Day's family includes a statement from his mother, Carmen Bolden Day, who said "some things need and have to be clarified."

"No organs were missing. I do not want to stray off from the facts," the statement read. "There were contradicting facts from the first preliminary autopsy compared to the second independent autopsy, but this is not a case of organ harvesting, however, my son did not put himself in a river."

Day's mother did not comment further on the "contradicting facts" she cited between the autopsies, but continued her cry for answers.

"My son was murdered and my goal and purpose are to find out what happened and hold those responsible accountable!!!” she said.

Little information has been released since Day's body was identified weeks after it was found in September in the Illinois River near Peru, a far southwest Chicago suburb. The location was miles from where Day was last seen, but not far from where his car had been discovered days earlier.

Bloomington Police public information officer John Fermon said the location where Day's car was located was notable to investigating officers.

"To me it's unusual, the way his vehicle was, you know, it was off of a parking lot inside, it wasn't like deep into a woods, but it was off a parking lot," Fermon said. "That's unusual just in itself. There's not much I can release at this point. So just really to state the obvious that's unusual."

Police declined to offer many specifics surrounding the ongoing investigation, but said Day disappeared under "unexplained suspicious circumstances."

"It's a suspicious or unusual circumstances while he was missing, and then [the car's location was] also, you know, pretty suspicious or unusual and I've been a police officer 10 years," Fermon said. "That's very unusual to just find a car like that."

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.

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

Bloomington Police

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 had 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.

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

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
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