BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Since August 2021, Carmen Bolden Day has tried to solve a painful mystery based in trauma.
“I don’t know what happened. I just want to know what happened to my child,” Bolden Day said.
For the last 365 days, Carmen has been fighting to find out how her 25-year-old son Jelani Day, an Illinois State University graduate student studying to become a doctor, ended up dead in the Illinois River.
“Sometimes I don’t even believe that Jelani is gone. I wake up sometimes thinking I still need to go look for him,” Bolden Day said.
Carmen meticulously details the timeline of her son’s investigation, starting from Aug. 24, 2021, when Jelani was reported missing.
As investigators worked, so did Carmen, conducting her own search parties and investigations.
“Who sits around and waits? I couldn’t wait. And no police showed up and nobody was there with us except for the people that volunteered — me and my family and the people that volunteered,” Bolden Day said.
Once the LaSalle County Coroner identified Jelani’s body in the Illinois River a month later on Oct. 25, 2021, the coroner determined Jelani’s cause of death was drowning.
“Jelani could swim. I knew he could swim. I took him to swim classes. He was on the swim team. He was going to swim at the YMCA all the time, he was working out. So I didn’t believe that that was my baby,” Bolden Day said.
So what happened to Jelani Day? Carmen refused to wait for information from the police.
She details instances where she and her family traveled across Central Illinois collecting surveillance camera footage of Jelani’s last days, and handing the content over to investigators.
“They have Jelani was last seen at 9:20 a.m. That’s not true. Jelani’s car was last seen at 10:30 on some cameras in Bloomington, Illinois that I found at a Dollar General Store. I found it and I gave it to the police department. They sat in a room just like you and me sitting right now, and they thanked me for that information. They’ve done nothing, and they’re still doing nothing. I’m still working,” Bolden Day said.
Could Jelani have harmed himself? It’s a thought that Carmen immediately dismisses, saying her son didn’t frequent Peru and never would have driven to the wooded area where his car was ultimately found.
“Where it was found at, wouldn’t nobody know about that area but somebody that’s familiar with that area, number one. Then for them to imply that he took off his license plate. So you’re telling me he would park his car, take off his license plate, and then walk? This tall, Black boy walking through your neighborhoods that are primarily white people when you guys don’t notice him? Then he has to walk through an industrial area to get to the river?” Bolden Day asked.
For Carmen, her son’s case is far from closed, leaving her mind open to a lot of questions. But there is only one update that she said could bring her even an ounce of peace.
“That they’ve arrested somebody. That they found out some information that leads to an arrest. That they know what happened to him. That’s the only thing that could bring me closure,” Bolden Day said.