‘Pretty Suspicious': Police Say ‘Unusual Circumstances' Surround Jelani Day's Death

Day's body was found earlier this month in the Illinois River near Peru, a far southwest Chicago suburb, but hadn't been identified until Thursday

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One thing stands out as particularly unusual to police as they investigate the disappearance and death of Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day.

Calling the circumstances surrounding Day's death "suspicious," Bloomington Police public information officer John Fermon said the location where Day's car was found before his body was discovered in the Illinois River days later 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, 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 Thursday, the same day the LaSalle County coroner identified the body as the missing 25-year-old student.

"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 body was found earlier this month in the Illinois River near Peru, a far southwest Chicago suburb, but hadn't been identified until Thursday.

The LaSalle County Coroner reported the 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 of death was not immediately known and was pending further investigation and toxicology testing, the coroner's office said.

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.

Fermon's comments echo those made by Day's family following the tragic discovery.

"Our hearts are broken," Day's family said in a statement. "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. 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."

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, 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.

Bloomington Police

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.

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. The FBI was listed among departments assisting in the investigation Thursday.

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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