Jelani Day

‘I Will Not Stop': Mother of Jelani Day Pleads for Answers in Son's Death

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The mother of Jelani Day, who was laid to rest Tuesday, said she is still seeking answers in the case of her son's death.

"I will not stop until I find out what happened to Jelani," Carmen Day said Tuesday. "I am asking, I am begging, I am pleading for state, the attorney general, to do what he needs to do to make sure we get the FBI involved."

The Illinois State University grad student, who was found dead in the Illinois River just days after he was reported missing, was laid to rest Tuesday morning at Springhill Cemetery in Danville.

"Jelani could have been anybody’s son, he could have been anybody’s brother, he could have been anybody’s nephew, your cousin," Carmen Day said. "But he is my son and I want to know what happened to Jelani."

Jelani's mother said that though she isn't the first mother to lose a child, she shouldn't have to be unaware why her son is being buried.

"I don’t know why I’m burying Jelani," Carmen Day said. "I don’t know what happened to Jelani. So, I don’t have any closure."

In a statement, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. called for justice for Day, likening his death to that of Emmett Till.

“Jelani was brutally murdered in Peru, Illinois and found faced down in the Illinois River. We are requesting a thorough investigation because local officials have been very difficult to deal with. They have not been forthcoming,” Jackson said in a statement.

Though his death has not officially been ruled a homicide, authorities have noted "unusual" circumstances surrounding both his disappearance and the discovery of his body.

Day disappeared on Aug. 24 and was reported missing soon after by his family and a professor after he did not show up for class for several days. Day's mother said it was not like him to disappear without telling someone about his whereabouts.

His car was found just days later in a wooded area near where his body was ultimately discovered in the Illinois River near Peru, a far southwest Chicago suburb miles from where Day was last seen. It wasn't until late-September that a positive identification was made, however.

The cause and manner of death have not yet been released, and LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch said such details are "still going to take some time" as they await toxicology and histology reports.

"Then need the police agencies to help with the big piece on how he came to be in the water," Ploch said.

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."

Day's mother also recently cited undisclosed discrepancies between an autopsy done by the LaSalle County Coroner's office and an independent autopsy ordered by the family.

Reports had surfaced in recent days indicating Day's body was missing several organs when an independent autopsy was ordered by the family, but Day's mother and the coroner later dispelled those rumors.

Ploch told NBC 5 in a statement "some were severely decomposed due to the body being in the water," but he noted that no organs were missing.

Still, Bolden Day said questions lingered following the two autopsies.

"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," she said in a statement.

She 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!!!” Bolden Day wrote.

Day's siblings wrote in a post last week that due to the confusion surrounding the autopsies, they had ordered a third autopsy be done, delaying a burial for Day.

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.

Bolden Day 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."

Several departments, including the FBI's Springfield, are involved in the investigation, authorities have confirmed, though their exact role remains unclear. The FBI's Springfield office previously told NBC 5 it was "in communication" with Bloomington authorities in connection with the case.

Bloomington Police

But in the days since Day's body was identified, thousands have signed a petition started by an Alabama fraternity seeking heightened federal involvement in the case.

With more than 28,000 signatures as of Tuesday, the petition, started by members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. and the Nu Epsilon chapter at Alabama A&M University, calls for federal and state authorities to take over the investigation, alleging the Bloomington Police Department "has shown the inability to handle a case of this nature."

The petition follows similar criticisms from Day's family, who alleged his case did not receive 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.

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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