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LaSalle County coroner releases cause of death opinion in Jelani Day case

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BLOOMINGTON — Two months after 25-year-old Jelani Day was reported missing, authorities said Monday he died by drowning.

“After consideration of the currently known circumstances surrounding his death, based upon review of the extensive available investigation, medical and dental information, and after postmortem examination with multiple ancillary and special studies, the cause of death of this positively identified 25-year-old male, Jelani Jesse Javonte Day, is drowning,” LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch wrote as the cause of death opinion released Monday, which is part of the forensic autopsy report for this case.

Day, a Danville native and graduate student at Illinois State University, was reported missing from Bloomington on Aug. 25. His body was found Sept. 4 in the Illinois River near Peru and identified Sept. 23. Law enforcement agencies had said the cause of death was pending further investigation and toxicology results.

Toxicology results were released Oct. 13 but did not denote cause of death.

“Unfortunately, there is no specific positive test at autopsy for drowning,” Ploch wrote. “Although the examination was suboptimal based upon the degree of decomposition and predation activity while the body was within the river during a period of warm water, there was no evidence of antemortem injury, such as manual strangulation, an assault or altercation, sharp, blunt or gunshot injury, infection, tumor, natural disease, congenital abnormality, or significant drug intoxication.”

“The manner in which Mr. Day went into the Illinois River is currently unknown.”

Ploch said the coroner's office will make no further statements "out of respect for the family and the continuing investigation."

The family's attorney was not immediately available for comment Monday evening.

Day’s disappearance and death has gained national attention and his family has spent the last several weeks mounting efforts to bring FBI investigators to the lead on his case.

Peru police Chief Robert Pyszka told The Pantagraph he had requested the FBI take the lead on the investigation.

Jelani Day mug


“The FBI is assisting on this case, but will not take over the lead of this investigation. They will assist us in any possible way they can, but they will not take over the lead in this case,” he said. “The family numerous times asked us to pass this investigation off, and we have attempted to do such.”

Day’s family will be joined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition on Tuesday for a march from the Peru Police Department to Illinois YMCA, near the location where his car was found on Aug. 26.

A multi-jurisdictional task force including the Illinois State Police, the Bloomington and Peru police departments, LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit continue to investigate Day’s death.

Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.


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