The family of Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day released a statement Thursday after their son was identified as the body found earlier this month in the Illinois River near Peru, a far southwest Chicago suburb.
Read their statement below:
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
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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.
This week we learned new evidence has been discovered and police are working on 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 at (309)434-2548 or email him at email@example.com.
We have also hired JAB Professional Services to assist the police. Information regarding Jelani’s disappearance can be emailed/texted to Beliveaups@yahoo.com 618-223-0044 (C) The family is offering a $25,000+ cash reward. https://gofund.me/8ee08e46
Thank you to every single person who has thought about, prayed for, talked about, and searched for Jelani. 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.
We will continue to share updates on Jelani’s case as information becomes available.
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.
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."
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.
Previous Coverage of Day's Disappearance
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.