Illinois State University

Jelani Day: What We Know About Missing ISU Grad Student's Disappearance

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

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What to Know

  • Jelani Day, 25, was last seen Aug. 24 and reported missing after he did not show up for class for several days
  • Day's abandoned car was found Aug. 26 in a wooded area near the Illinois Valley YMCA in Peru, about 60 miles north of Bloomington in LaSalle County
  • Police are asking the public for tips on Day's disappearance nearly a month since he vanished

UPDATE: 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.

Illinois State University graduate student Jelani "JJ" Day disappeared on Aug. 24 and hasn't been seen since.

His car was found in a wooded area in Peru, Illinois two days later, but an investigation into what happened remains ongoing.

His family has criticized the investigation into Day'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.

Here's a look at the timeline of events and what we know so far about Day's case:

Jelani Day Disappears

Jelani Day, 25, was last seen Aug. 24. His family in Danville and a faculty member reported him missing after he did not show up for class for several days.

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

She said her son wants to become a doctor and he was attending Illinois State to get his master’s degree in speech pathology.

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

Day is reported to be a Black male, 25 years old, standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 180 pounds. He has short black hair, brown eyes and some facial hair. Day is known to operate a white, 2010 Chrysler 300 (Illinois registration #CH74067), police said.

Anyone who has contact with Day is asked to contact the Bloomington Police Department at (309) 820-8888. If anyone has information about Day or his disappearance, they are being asked to contact Detective Paul Jones at (309) 434-2548 or Pjones@cityblm.org.

Jelani Day's Car is Found

Day's abandoned car was found Aug. 26 in a wooded area near the Illinois Valley YMCA in Peru, located about 60 miles north of Bloomington in LaSalle County.

"When officers arrived, a vehicle was located concealed in the wooded area," Peru police said in a release.

Police say Day disappeared under "unexplained suspicious circumstances."

A large search effort was launched near the site where the vehicle was found and police said the car was later "removed and transported to a secure facility pending further processing."

"Bloomington and Peru detectives are asking the assistance from Illinois Valley residents that may have seen the vehicle or Jelani or any else operating the vehicle in the area," police said in a release.

Speaking at an event to support the search at Illinois State University in Normal, Day’s mother told about 100 people attending that she believes her son is alive and will be found. She said Jelani Day is strong and asked the crowd to pray for his strength.

Police Release What They Believe Are Last-Known Photos of Day

The Bloomington Police Department on Aug. 27 released what it believed to be the "last known photograph/video of Jelani and his clothing from a security camera at ISU's Bone Student Center," though additional images would later be released.

The first set of images were taken at about 7:20 a.m. on Aug. 24 and show Day wearing a blue button-up collared dress shirt, black pants, a black belt, black dress shoes and a blue face covering.

The department also asks that anyone who has seen Day's Chrysler 300 between 7 a.m. Aug. 24 and 4:20 p.m. Aug. 26, to contact Detective Paul Jones at (309) 434-2548 or at Pjones@cityblm.org.

"The Bloomington Police has worked with and continues to work with several jurisdictions to locate Day and locating him is a top priority for everyone involved," the department said in a release. "The BPD has also sent out this information statewide in an attempt to locate him."

New Surveillance Images of Day Are Discovered at Cannabis Dispensary; Police Reveal Clothing Found in Car

Bloomington Police

On Aug. 31, police say they have obtained new video of Day from a surveillance camera at a Beyond/Hello, a Bloomington cannabis dispensary.

The footage, which was taken at 9:12 a.m. on Aug. 24, shows Day wearing a blue Detroit Lions baseball hat, a black Jimi "Hendrix" band shirt with a unique graphic, white or silver shorts and black shoes with white soles. His vehicle is also seen in the parking lot outside the business.

Police note, however, that the clothing items Day is wearing in the footage were found inside the vehicle and would not be on Day any longer.

They ask for anyone who may have seen him wearing that clothing or matching his description between 9:15 a.m. on Aug. 24 and 4:20 p.m. on Aug. 26 to contact authorities.

At the same time, ISU's president, Terri Goss Kinzy, releases a message to students asking them to share information "no matter how small."

"I am asking our Illinois State University community to think about Jelani, his family, and how we can come together to raise awareness and focus attention on the search to locate him," the message read.

Police Investigate Unidentified Body Discovered in Illinois River, Ask Public to 'Refrain From Speculation'

Police investigating Day's disappearance say an unidentified body was discovered on Sept. 4 of the south bank of the Illinois River, east of the Illinois Route 251 bridge.

No identification was released at the time and authorities said such information could take "several days or several weeks."

"We ask that people refrain from speculation as the investigation remains ongoing and could take considerable time," police said in a release the following day.

Officer John Fermon told the (Bloomington) Pantagraph that several detectives are combing digital data and seeking other leads on the whereabouts of Day. Their efforts include assisting the LaSalle County Sheriff’s office following the discovery of the body.

Fermon declined to release any other information about the body discovered just off the south bank of the river east of the Illinois 251 bridge. Nor would he elaborate on the Bloomington agency’s involvement in the investigation.

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.

Coroner Says Body Found is 'Separate' to Investigation into Day's Disappearance

On Sept. 7, the LaSalle County coroner said an autopsy revealed the body recovered belonged to a man but said "due to condition" of the body identification would take "several weeks to possibly months." The coroner, however, said the case was separate from the missing person investigation into Day's disappearance, but did not elaborate.

Weeks Later, Police Again Ask Public for Information on Day's Disappearance

On Sept. 20, weeks after the body was discovered, police investigating Day's disappearance ask the public for tips once again as the search for the young man continues nearly a month after he vanished.

Bloomington police said Monday they need tips from the public to aid the ongoing search for Day.

“What we want is any factual tip, even as simple as. ‘Hey, you know, we saw him walking last month on the quad’ or something. That would be a good tip,” said John Fermon, a public information officer for the Bloomington Police Department.

ISU President Addresses Day's Disappearance in Speech

Illinois State President Terri Goss Kinzy referred to Day in a speech Tuesday.

“In consultation with Jelani’s family, we will continue to provide support to them and as a community, I ask that we all provide support to each other," she said.​

Day's Disappearance Gains Attention on Social Media, Including From Lizzo; Sisters Speak Out

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

At the same time, his sisters plead for answers in an interview with NBC affiliate station WAND.

"I just want my brother back. I need my brother back. All my siblings are part of me. So, not having Jelani here, It's like I'm missing a part of myself," Zena Day said in the interview.

The sisters called for FBI help in the case.

"Everything is still a big mystery," his older sister, Dacara Day, said. The family wants FBI help. 

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