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Coroner says Jelani Day drowned, with no evidence of trauma before his death

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Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day went missing Aug. 24. His body was discovered Sept. 4 in Peru, Ill.

Former Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day died from drowning, with no evidence of other injuries suffered before his death, authorities said Monday.

Day, 25, was found Sept. 4 in the Illinois River in Peru, about an hour north of Bloomington-Normal. He had been missing for over a week.

LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch said Monday the cause of death has been determined as drowning. But authorities still don’t know how Day ended up in the river.

“Unfortunately, there is no specific test at autopsy for drowning,” Ploch said. “Drowning is considered a diagnosis of exclusion with supporting investigation circumstances when a person is found deceased in a body of water.”

Examination of Day’s body was made difficult because of how badly it was decomposed and other organisms in the water eating away at it, Ploch said.

The cause of death opinion was based upon “review of the extensive available investigation, medical and dental information, and after postmortem examination with multiple ancillary and special studies,” Ploch said.

“There was no evidence of any antemortem (pre-death) injury, such as manual strangulation, an assault or altercation, sharp, blunt or gunshot injury, infection, tumor, natural disease, congenital abnormality, or significant drug intoxication,” Ploch said.

“The manner in which Mr. Day went into the Illinois River is currently unknown,” he added.

Peru Police, LaSalle Police, Bloomington Police, the LaSalle County sheriff’s office, and State Police continue to investigate the case.

Day’s death is being followed nationally. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition are planning a march Tuesday in Peru to put pressure on investigators to resolve the case.

Day's family and their supporters believe he was murdered, although authorities have not released any evidence of foul play.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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