Jelani Day

Jelani Day's Cause of Death Released by LaSalle County Coroner

While Day's cause of death was released Monday, the manner of death remained unknown

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The LaSalle County Coroner on Monday released the cause of death for Jelani Day, the Illinois State University graduate student who was found dead in the Illinois River in September just days after he was reported missing.

Day's cause of death was ruled as a drowning, LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch said in a news release Monday, adding the manner in which "Mr. Day went into the Illinois River is currently unknown."

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.

Authorities noted "unusual" circumstances surrounding both his disappearance and the discovery of his body. While the cause of death was released Monday, the manner of death remained unknown.

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

"It's 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," Bloomington Police public information officer John Fermon said. "That's very unusual to just find a car like that."

Day's mother, Carmen Bolden Day, 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 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 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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