While the nation waited on pins and needles for every discovery made in the Gabby Petito case, Black people wondered where the concern (and massive amounts of media coverage) was for missing Black persons. Especially in the case of Jelani Day.
Day was reported missing by his parents on Aug. 25. A graduate student at Illinois State University, he was last seen there the day before. On Sept. 4, a body was found floating in the Illinois River, but it wasn’t confirmed to be Day until weeks later on Sept. 23. On Monday, the LaSalle County Coroner determined that Day’s cause of death was drowning.
On Tuesday, Day’s family gathered with supporters in Peru, Ill., demanding answers from local law enforcement about what really happened to the 25-year-old.
Here’s more from the coroner’s statement reported by ABC News:
“Unfortunately, there is no specific positive test at autopsy for drowning,” coroner Richard Ploch’s statement read Tuesday. “Drowning is considered a diagnosis of exclusion with supporting investigation circumstances when a person is found deceased in a body of water.”
The coroner did not find any evidence of intoxication or injury in the forensic autopsy — no signs of an assault, altercation, strangulation or more — and it remains unknown how Day ended up in the Illinois River.
On Tuesday, Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, was joined by Rev. Jesse Jackson, his organization, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and supporters at the Peru Police Department, according to WGLT.
“Jelani was an avid swimmer, and an avid swimmer doesn’t drown himself,” Day said. “Jelani didn’t have depression or mental issues. Those are indicative of someone that had suicidal thoughts. That’s not what my son had.”
WGLT reports that the coroner attended the gathering, even though his report is being called into question. “That was to show support because Carmen (Bolden) Day asked me to attend and I said I would and to come here to show support for their cause,” Richard Ploch said, according to WGLT. “I still agree: We need to determine why he was found in the water.”
Bolden Day and members of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition led a tour of several spots along the Illinois River near Peru where they say Jelani’s car, his belongings and Jelani himself were found in separate locations.
Jelani’s car was found “concealed” in a wooded area south of the Illinois Valley YMCA and north of the intersection of 12th Street and Westclox Avenue in Peru, police said. That’s about a mile from where police said his body was found: just off the south bank of the Illinois River, east of Illinois 251 bridge.
Bolden Day and Jackson said the license plates were removed from Jelani’s car, although police have not confirmed that publicly.
According to Day, two students from her son’s school who went looking for him found his clothes. WGLT notes that the clothing was located approximately one mile away from his body.
“My son ain’t coming into the woods to hang out, that’s not what he did, ever in all the 25 years of me raising him and knowing him,” Day said, according to WGLT. “This wouldn’t have been Jelani’s hangout spot.”
Jonathan Jackson, a spokesperson for Rainbow PUSH, said Day was not allowed to speak to the two students, who have now retained lawyers.
As Day tries to find answers about what happened to her son, CNN reports that she has already ordered two independent autopsy reports.
The case has also caught the attention of Rep. Bobby Rush, who wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Rush asked for the FBI to investigate what happened to Day as they did in the case of Gabby Petito, which concluded last week.
“As I learned the details of Day’s case, I was reminded of the lynching of Emmett Till, whose body was found floating in a river in 1955 and still, decades later, no one has been held legally accountable for his death,” he wrote, according to CNN. “Appropriately, the FBI has aggressively pursued justice for Petito, and Day’s family deserves the same urgency as they continue to seek answers to the many questions surrounding his tragic death.”
A spokesperson for the FBI’s Chicago Field Office, Siobhan Johnson, said that agents were willing to help and are already in contact with the Peru Police Department about providing resources.