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‘I Don’t Even Understand It’: As Jelani Day Bill Comes Close to Becoming Law, His Family Is Still Desperate for Answers Six Months After His Mysterious Disappearance and Death

Jelani Day, 25, went missing six months ago. A few weeks later his body was found in the Illinois River, but his family is still left with as many questions today as they were when they learned of his suspicious death.

“Sometimes my chest just hurts so bad, and it’s in this spot where my heart is, and I know I just miss Jelani something terrible,” said Carmen Day, Jelani Day’s mother.

Jelani Day’s body was found on Sept. 4, 2021, floating in the Illinois River in Peru, Illinois, a small town about 60 miles south of Bloomington, Illinois, which is close to where Day attended Illinois State University as a graduate student in speech pathology. He was reported missing by his mother on Aug. 24.

His body was identified on Sept. 24, and his family was notified at that time.

“I don’t even understand it, because it’s like my son was a ghost and he disappeared, and nobody saw him anywhere until he was discovered in this river,” Carmen Day said.

Part of the mother’s frustration comes from the police handling of the death investigation she criticizes investigators for being dismissive and not moving fast enough with the investigation. “You didn’t do what you were supposed to do in those hours, and I’m angry about that and I’m hurt about that,” she said.

At a December news conference marking 100 days since Jelani disappeared, attorneys for the family questioned the sequence of events as they knew them leading up to his disappearance.

“As we understand it, his car was found, three and a half miles from the river where he allegedly committed suicide in, but his clothes were found another place, his wallet was found in another place, his cellphone was found in another place, by different people and it’s just not adding up,” said Ben Crump, one of the family’s attorneys.

According to the autopsy report obtained by WGLT, the coroner determined, “there was no evidence of pre-death injury or assault, altercation, sharp, blunt or gunshot injury,” the report also noted, “abundant insect larvae” were found within and throughout the body and clothing and Jelani’s “organs appear intact, complete and within their usual anatomic positions.”

On Feb. 24, Jelani’s family met with several law enforcement agencies working together to investigate the case because many of his belongings were found in different locations spanning different police jurisdictions.

“We were able to sit down with the police to gain some insight on what they’ve done, and I told them, I really left out of that meeting with so many more thoughts and unclear things and the whys and what you should have done before I walked in there,” Day said.

Peru, Illinois, Police Chief Bob Pyszka told Atlanta Black Star, “Peru Police Department and the Jelani Day Joint Task Force are exhaustively pursuing every lead and employing every available tool to ensure that no stone remains unturned” and if anyone has information to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

Meanwhile as the death investigation continues, Carmen Day found reason to smile on Feb. 24, as Senate Bill 3932, also known as the Jelani Day Bill passed the Senate in the Illinois General Assembly. The bill now moves on to the house. The bill would require the FBI to get involved if the medical examiner or coroner cannot identify human remains within 72 hours after they were found.

“Just think if I had that same opportunity, I wouldn’t have had to wait 30 days to find out they had a body that was sitting there that belonged to me,” Carmen said of the bill that bears her son’s name and would mitigate delays in getting federal resources involved in cases of unidentified missing people.


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