Coroner: Body Found In LaSalle County Is Jelani Day
Authorities said Thursday the body found three weeks ago near Peru, Ill., is that of missing Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day of Bloomington.
Day, 25, had been missing since Aug. 24, after last being spotted that morning at ISU and at a store in Bloomington. His car was found two days later in Peru, about an hour north of Bloomington-Normal. The body was found Sept. 4 in the Illinois River floating just east of the Illinois 251 bridge, about a mile from where the car was found.
It took nearly three weeks for authorities to identify the body. The LaSalle County coroner did that Thursday, through forensic dental identification and DNA testing and comparison.
Bloomington Police public information officer John Fermon said during a virtual news conference the cause of Day’s death is still unknown. He did not say whether police had any persons of interest in the case.
“We can all agree that it was very suspicious, just unlike him,” Fermon said. “It was one of those things, was it foul play or not?”
Fermon said the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t determined whether it is a homicide investigation at this point. The sheriff’s office has not responded to a request for comment.
Day's case has received extensive coverage in central Illinois, and recently went national when Day's mother protested that her son's death was not receiving enough resources compared to another missing person case that drew national attention.
The FBI is now listed among the agencies investigating the matter. Fermon said he didn’t have a specific date when the FBI was brought in, but he indicated many people in the community pushed for more information on the case.
“Jelani was such a great person and had so many great friends that people were reaching out wanting to help,” he said.
Fermon did not discuss evidence in the case, but he confirmed police received a tip that brought them to the Illinois River where his body was found.
“Imagine searching an entire city is difficult, but we got some information to give us that second search,” he said, adding he hopes Thursday's identification can provide some closure for the family.
“I couldn’t put myself in their shoes. It was just tough,” Fermon said. “I’d want to know the answers, good or bad, to start the grieving process, so I think it’s good in that aspect.”
Fermon said he understands the Day family’s frustration that the case didn’t get much attention at first.
“A lot of our high-risk missing persons just here in the city don’t get the attention (they) deserve either,” Fermon said. “I’m happy this got out there. We’ll take the criticism.”
Fermon could not address the reasons why it took nearly three weeks for a positive identification, but he indicated there is a backlog at the Illinois State Police crime lab. The State Police Division of Forensic Services has declined to comment, citing its policy on open cases.
Day's family issued a statement Thursday afternoon on social media. They said "now we need to find out (what happened to Jelani Day)." The family said it's hired a private investigator to assist the police.
"This week we learned new evidence has been discovered and police are working new leads related to Jelani’s disappearance. This case is not closed and the investigation is not over," the family wrote.
Campus community mourns
ISU president Terri Goss Kinzy said she is deeply saddened by the news and details, adding details of how the campus community comes together to celebrate Jelani's life will be forthcoming.
"His family and friends are foremost in our thoughts during this difficult time and we extend our deepest condolences," said Kinzy. "Let us remember to take care of one another, check in on one another, and convey our feelings of love or loss to those close to us."
Kinzy thanked everyone who helped raise awareness of the case.
"As members of the Redbird family, please remember that you are not alone. Students seeking support should not hesitate to reach out at any time to Student Counseling Services," said Kinzy.
Fermon said he understands this case has the ISU community on high alert.
“Are there any specific dangers that we can notify ISU PD or the university specific steps to take? No, but of course always be vigilant, always be aware of your surroundings,” he said.
Anyone with any information about Day’s case should contact the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office at (815) 433-2161.