‘It Doesn’t Add Up At All’: FBI Joins Investigation Into Grad Student Jelani Day’s Death
Officials say agents are searching for new leads to better understand the case’s facts and circumstances.
The FBI is offering a reward for “substantial information” in the case of Jelani Day, a gifted Illinois graduate student whose body was discovered floating in a river 10 days after he was reported missing last summer.
“Investigators believe the full cooperation of the public and Day’s close contacts may be key to understanding the facts and circumstances surrounding Day’s death,” the FBI said, noting a new team is working to identify fresh leads, such as information about Day’s final hours.
Day’s family and a professor contacted authorities on Aug. 25 after he failed to attend classes at Illinois State University in Bloomington for days and nobody had seen or heard from him.
Detectives later located 25-year-old Day’s car by the Illinois River near the town Peru, and his body was recovered on Sept. 4. The following month, the LaSalle County Coroner determined Day’s cause of death was drowning, but the manner remains unknown.
“It doesn't add up at all. His car was found three-and-a-half miles from the river where he allegedly committed suicide in, but then his clothes were found in another place, his wallet was found in another place, his cell phone was found in another place by other people,” Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney who is working with Day’s family, said in early December. “The fact that they took the license tag off the back of his car, none of that adds up to suicide. It sounds like homicide.”
Carmen Bolden Day hopes a witness will step forward to shed light on her son’s disappearance and death. “Somebody knows something, somebody seen something, and I need somebody to say something,” she said.
Anyone with information related to the case is asked to submit a tip by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI.
A missing graduate student in Illinois was recently found dead in a river, and his loved ones suspect foul play.
“None of this makes sense,” Eriel Davis told Chicago’s WLS-TV of her cousin, 25-year-old Jelani Day.
“His dad actually has cancer and Jelani is the bone marrow match for his dad, and he would never abandon his father like that,” Davis explained. “He would come here in Chicago and visit him at Northwestern hospital, sit with him, you know, encourage him, pray with him.”
Officials said Day’s family hadn’t heard from him since Aug. 23, and he was last seen alive on the campus of Illinois State University in Bloomington, where he was studying speech pathology, the following day. The aspiring doctor’s family reported him missing on Aug. 25.
Day’s car was located in Peru, Illinois, on Aug. 26, but a search of the area turned up nothing, according to police. On Sept. 4, a body was found floating in the nearby Illinois River and DNA testing and dental forensic identification confirmed the remains belonged to Day almost three weeks later.
“I'm very upset because I can't even look at my son's body. His body has deteriorated to the point where I can't say a proper goodbye to him,” Carmen Bolden Day told Good Morning America on Sept. 29.
The LaSalle County coroner has not determined Day’s cause of death, and autopsy and toxicology results are pending.
“At this moment there are more questions than answers surrounding Jelani's disappearance and death, and that is where we will focus our energy,” Day’s family recently wrote in a statement. “As of this moment, we do not know what happened to Jelani and we will not stop until we do.”
“Jelani did not just disappear into thin air,” his mother said on GMA. “Somebody knows something, somebody seen something, and I need somebody to say something.”
The family’s attorney, Hallie Bezner, told the show Day had never been in Peru before and his wallet was found in a different area than where some clothing and his school identification were discovered.
On Aug. 25, one day after he was last seen alive, a security camera captured video of a man knocking on the door of a home near where Day’s body was later found. On Sept. 29, authorities ruled the man out as a person of interest after they "verified the man was in the neighborhood as part of his employment," according to WEEK-TV.
Authorities have not named any suspects in the case.
The victim's family urges anyone who may have been in contact with Jelani Day in the days or weeks before his disappearance and death to contact Bloomington Police Detective Paul Jones at (309) 434-2548, or by email at email@example.com.
“Jelani was ambitious. He was driven. He was focused. He was energetic. He was full of life,” Bolden Day said of her son. “Jelani was a person that you couldn't help but love.”