BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — One year after his disappearance and subsequent death, the family and many in Bloomington are still wondering what exactly happened to Illinois State University (ISU) graduate student Jelani Day.
One year later, there are still many unanswered questions.
“Research shows that unfortunately African-Americans who are victims of crime; those crimes go unaddressed and unsolved,” said Dr. Carla Campbell-Jackson, first vice president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP.
“This young man is gone, all of that potential, all of that life that he had,” said Linda Foster, president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP.
The 25-year-old Day was studying to be a doctor and working towards a master’s at ISU. He was last seen alive entering the Beyond-Hello cannabis dispensary in Bloomington on Aug. 24, 2021.
One day later, Day was reported missing.
After connecting the dots, police recovered Day’s vehicle in LaSalle County, and on Sept. 4, 2021, authorities found a body in the Illinois River. It took nearly three more weeks to identify just who it was, Jelani Day.
“We think it’s a long time coming for you to have a body and can’t make a determination you need to move it on. It shouldn’t be 20 days later that now you identify,” Foster said.
Lawmakers in Springfield were listening. In Spring, lawmakers passed – and Gov. JB Pritzker signed – the Jelani Day bill.
“This is a very tragic situation, and I think that the legislature tried to respond to the needs of a family,” said State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria).
The Jelani Day bill was co-sponsored by Koehler, and it requires county coroners to turn over an unidentified body to the FBI if it has been more than 72 hours.
“I think the FBI has certainly vast resources and databases that can help, whether it’s fingerprinting or DNA,” Koehler said.
In October, LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch ruled Day’s cause of death as drowning, but even now, not everybody is convinced.
Jelani Day’s story captured the attention of a civil rights icon, Rainbow Push Coalition Founder Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“I think that some men followed him and somebody knows something that we don’t know,” said Jackson. “Police must have hid their tracks that left them off the hook.”
Jackson’s group held marches for justice in Peru and Bloomington-Normal in 2021.
“We went to where they found his clothes and his body was a mile and a half up the river; it was awful. Then they defaced him. It was like a real Emmett Till-type situation,” Jackson said.
One mystery that lingers is how did Day get to LaSalle County in the first place? One of the few clues includes his cell phone, which was found off I-55 near Bloomington.
“If you know something, you must be courageous enough to say something and to do something because Mr. Jelani Day’s life was certainly worth it.” Carla Campbell-Jackson said.
WMBD asked investigating law enforcement agencies for updates on how their investigation is progressing.
“We can’t talk about that. It’s in the FBI’s hands,” said Kiel Nowers of the Bloomington Police Department.
A statement from the FBI reads, “Department of Justice policy prohibits the FBI from commenting on investigations.”
The investigation into Jelani Day’s death is still active. Those with more information are encouraged to sumbit any tips to 1-800-CALL-FBI.