“I need to know what happened to my son,” a tearful Carmen Day said at a news conference on Friday, Dec. 3, as the calendar passed the 100-day mark since her 25-year-old son, Jelani Day, died after he went missing for weeks.
Jelani was an Illinois State University graduate student studying to become a speech pathologist. On Aug. 24, Carmen could not reach him by phone and the next day she filed a missing person’s report.
Jelani’s body was found on Sept. 4, floating in the Illinois River in Peru, Illinois, a small town about 60 miles north of Bloomington, Illinois. On Sept. 23, the LaSalle County Coroner’s Office confirmed the identity of the body as belonging to Jelani Day.
Illinois State University is in Normal, Illinois, a suburb of Bloomington roughly three miles away. Peru, Illinois, has around 9,700 residents with a population that is 95 percent white and 0.4 percent Black, according to U.S. Census data.
The family and their attorneys question if Jelani’s race factors into his disappearance and death. “Then you look at the demographics of this town in which this happened and the historical acknowledgement that this was a sundown town,” said attorney Ben Crump, referring to towns that are predominantly white and unwelcoming to Black people or other non-white racial groups.
Questions begin to mount for Day’s family and their legal team as to why Jelani was in Peru, Illinois, in the first place because they claim he had no ties to Peru. Confusing the matter further, Day’s family suspects foul play contributed to Jelani’s disappearance because several of his personal belongings were found and brought to authorities by other people.
“As we understand it, his car was found three-and-a-half miles from the river where he allegedly committed suicide, but his clothes were found in another place, his wallet was found another place, his cell phone was found in another place, by different people, and it’s just not adding up,” said attorney Ben Crump.
B’Ivory LaMarr, one of the attorneys representing the Day family, said due to a series of questions surrounding Jelani’s death and the slow pace of local police in both Peru, and LaSalle County, Illinois, that federal law enforcement must step in.
“The family at this point is calling for the FBI, obviously the FBI will be the most verse to handling these kinds of cases, knowing what to look for and be able to conduct behavioral analysis to determine a prospect of who the alleged killer would be,” LaMarr said.
The family thinks with federal resources, Jelani’s investigation could get the extra boost they feel it’s been missing.
As examples, they point to the abundance of resources used for Gabby Petito’s disappearance in September, a white woman reportedly killed by her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie before he took his own life amid a massive police manhunt.
The Day family highlighted the disparity among Black-and-white missing persons cases at Friday’s news conference with hopes Jelani can get the same level of focus and attention.
Carmen says she hasn’t received much help from local police in her son’s investigation and credited the efforts of the Day family for making small headway in Jelani’s case.
“I wasn’t getting any help, I wasn’t getting any resources, I didn’t have all the drones, I didn’t have the police officers, I didn’t have all of that, I still don’t have that,” Carmen said amid a desperate plea for help.
“It was me and my children who took on the task of going to stores, going to gas stations, watching surveillance tapes, calling detectives asking them ‘Have you checked this area, can you come get this videotape because we see Jelani’s car was here,’ ” Carmen also said.
The Peru Police Department said the LaSalle Sheriff’s Office is now the lead agency handling the case. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office told Atlanta Black Star they will issue a news release regarding Jelani Day’s case soon, but did not reveal a set day and time.
As of this report, the FBI has not taken the lead on Jelani’s investigation.
A spokesperson for the FBI told Atlanta Black Star, “The FBI is always willing to assist at the request of local law enforcement and is in communication with the Peru Police department to provide resources as needed. Department of Justice policy prevents us from further commenting on investigations.”
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