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Jelani Day timeline: Key moments in the investigation

Jelani Day, 25, was last seen Tuesday morning on a security camera at ISU’s Bone Student Center.
Jelani Day, 25, was a graduate student at Illinois State University when he went missing. He was later found dead in Peru, Ill., about an hour north of Bloomington-Normal.

Here’s a look at some key dates and developments in the death of Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day.

7:20 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021: Jelani is spotted in security camera footage at ISU’s Bone Student Center in Normal. He’s wearing a blue button-up collared dress shirt, black pants, black belt, black dress shoes, and a blue face covering.

9:12 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24: Jelani is spotted in security camera footage at Beyond/Hello, a Bloomington cannabis dispensary. Day appears to be wearing a blue Detroit Lions baseball hat, a black T- shirt with a unique graphic (Jimi "Hendrix" band shirt), white/silver shorts, and black shoes with white soles. Day’s white Chrysler 300 car is in the parking lot outside the dispensary.

Wednesday, Aug. 25: Jelani is reported missing.

4:20 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 26: Peru Police officers find Day’s car concealed in a wooded area in Peru (about an hour north of Bloomington-Normal), south of the Illinois Valley YMCA and north of the intersection of 12th Street and Westclox Avenue. An “extensive K-9 search” is conducted by State Police, drone aerial searches by Peru Fire and Utica Fire drones as well as a ground search by teams from Peru, Utica, and Oglesby fire departments.

Friday, Aug. 27: In announcing the car was found, Peru Police say Jelani has been missing for several days in “unexplained suspicious circumstances.”

Saturday, Sept. 4: An unidentified body is found in Peru, along the south bank of the Illinois River east of the Illinois 251 bridge. That’s about a mile from where Jelani’s car was found.

Monday, Sept. 6: State Police collect DNA from Jelani’s family.

Thursday, Sept. 23: Authorities announce the body found in Peru was Jelani Day. They used forensic dental identification and DNA testing and comparison. Bloomington Police hold the only law enforcement press conference ever conducted in the case.

Thursday, Sept. 23: Peru Police posted a surveillance video on Facebook, apparently showing a Black man approaching a residence and saying it was related to an ongoing investigation. But the Facebook post did not specify whether the video was related to Day’s case, fueling speculation about its relevance.

Monday, Sept. 27: The LaSalle County sheriff’s office identifies itself as the media point of contact for the case. The sheriff’s office says a “collaborative multijurisdictional unit” is investigating. That includes the sheriff’s office, State Police, Peru Police, LaSalle Police, the Bloomington Police, and the FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit.

Wednesday, Sept. 29: The Town of Normal removes a painting of Jelani placed at a makeshift display site near the Uptown mural. The town says it’s working with ISU to “explore options for sharing it on campus.”

Wednesday, Sept. 29: Peru Police say the person in the Facebook surveillance video is “not a suspect or any longer a person of interest.”

Monday, Oct. 4: Local demonstrators march on Normal City Hall to raise concerns about the removal of the Jelani tribute in Uptown Normal.

Thursday, Oct. 7: The ISU community joins with Jelani’s family for a celebration of his life at Redbird Arena in Normal.

Wednesday, Oct. 13: The LaSalle County sheriff’s office issues a rare public statement about the status of the investigation. They say “investigators are reviewing hundreds of hours of security video” and had conducted another search of the Illinois River, which did not yield anything.

Friday, Oct. 15: The LaSalle County coroner releases a toxicology report of Jelani’s body. It shows evidence of marijuana, caffeine, and nicotine use—three legal substances—but not toxicologically significant amounts.

Tuesday, Oct. 19: Jelani is buried in Danville. His burial is attended by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and former presidential candidate. Jackson calls Jelani’s death a “murder” and that it “smells like another Emmett Till case all over again.”

Friday, Oct. 22: The Pantagraph reports that the Peru police chief says the FBI has been asked to but has declined to take over the lead in the investigation of Jelani’s death.

Monday, Oct. 25: The LaSalle County coroner says the cause of Jelani's death was drowning, with no evidence of other trauma before his death. Authorities still don't know how he ended up in the river.

Tuesday, Oct. 26: Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition leads the “March for Jelani Day” in Peru, seeking “justice” in Jelani’s death. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Chicago, requests that the Department of Justice investigate the death.

Wednesday, Oct. 27: The LaSalle County coroner released a more detailed autopsy report from a forensic pathologist. It says there was “no evidence” of assault or altercation on the body and further demystifies several longstanding rumors in the case.

Monday, Nov. 11: The LaSalle County Sheriff's department confirmed that Day's cell phone has been located. Sheriff Adam Diss said the phone is being sent to the FBI for "further forensic analysis."

Friday, Dec.3: Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump holds a press conference to announce he will assist the Day family find answers in the case.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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