Illinois State University

Who is Jelani Day? Missing ISU Grad Student's Case Gains National Attention

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

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Illinois State University graduate student Jelani "JJ" Day wanted to be a doctor and was working toward his master’s degree in speech pathology when he suddenly vanished, his family said.

Day, 25, disappeared on Aug. 24 and hasn't been seen since.

Two days later, Day's car was found in a wooded area miles from where he was last seen, but an investigation into what happened remains ongoing.

So where is he?

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

His family and a professor reported him missing on Aug. 25 after he did not show up for class for several days.

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

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.

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."

On Sept. 4, a search team found a body in the Illinois River near Peru. The coroner told Day's family it could take several weeks or months to identify the body because of the condition.

"We’ve given them DNA so they can identify the body," Bolden said. "However what I was told that the crime lab does not have the solution that they need to process the DNA. I’m supposed to find out today if they’re going to be able to get the solution because it’s on back order."

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.

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 its investigation into the identity is "separate" from the investigation into Day's disappearance, though they did not elaborate.

While police continue to investigate, Bolden feels the case has come to a standstill with no sense of urgency to find her son.

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.

Bloomington police said 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.

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.

Illinois State University 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.​

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.

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.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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