PERU — A body found in the Illinois River three weeks ago was identified Thursday as that of Jelani Day, the Illinois State University graduate student whose disappearance nearly a month ago triggered national attention and emotional pleas to those with information to come forward. A cause of death is pending further investigation and toxicology testing, officials said.
In a Facebook post, Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, wrote, “There are no words to clearly communicate our devastation. ... Our hearts are broken.”
Jelani Day, 25, was last seen the morning of Aug. 24 walking into the Beyond/Hello store in Bloomington. His family in Danville and a faculty member at ISU reported him missing the next day. His family had last spoken to him Aug. 23, and the faculty member noted he had not been in class for several days.
Day’s 2010 Chrysler 300 was located in Peru on Aug. 26; inside were the clothes he was last seen wearing.
Illinois State Police K9 units searched the area, with assistance from the Peru and Utica fire departments' drone teams. The Oglesby Fire Department also helped with ground search efforts.
Additional searches were held in the Peru area but failed to find Day until Sept. 4, when the Illinois Search and Rescue Council, among other responding agencies, recovered the body, according to the statement.
LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch had said the identification could take many days or several weeks.
Day's body was recovered from near the south bank of the Illinois River, east of the Illinois Route 251 bridge in Peru. Bloomington Police responded, along with the Lasalle County Coroner’s Office, the Lasalle County Sheriff’s Office, and the Illinois State Police Crime Scene Services.
According to a joint statement from the Peru and Bloomington police departments and the LaSalle County sheriff's and coroner's offices, Day was identified through forensic dental information and DNA testing and comparison.
'We'll get that answer'
In a news conference Thursday, BPD spokesman John Fermon acknowledged there had been a DNA testing backlog and said their investigation with the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office is not complete. The department is still working to determine if foul play was involved.
“Over time, that’s where we’ll get that answer,” he said, noting the department could not say whether or not any suspects had been identified.
According to data posted to Illinois State Police’s website, the Division of Forensic Services had listed a backlog of 3,745 uncompleted biology tasks as of Aug. 31.
A representative with ISP said their Division of Forensic Services can’t comment on open cases, adding “all DNA cases are a priority.” The spokesperson also told The Pantagraph the forensics services division regularly communicates with user agencies to prioritize cases and provide information in a timely fashion.
In her Facebook post, Bolden Day asked the community to continue to pray for her family as they focus on finding out what happened to her son.
“At this moment there are more questions than answers surrounding Jelani’s disappearance and death, and that is where we will focus our energy,” the post read. “As of this moment, we do not know what happened to Jelani and we will not stop until we do.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Paul Jones at 309-434-2548 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fermon said some information would not be released, though "we try to release all the information that can be helpful in locating the missing person without ruining the investigation down the road."
A memorial planned by an ISU student for 4 p.m. Saturday at Uptown Circle had initially been framed as a protest, calling for the FBI to be involved in the case.
On Thursday morning, Becky Cramblit, the public affairs officer for the FBI office in Springfield, told The Pantagraph the bureau has had some involvement with Day’s case, but she deferred to the Bloomington Police Department as the lead agency.
“We have been in communication with the Bloomington Police Department over the last several weeks on the case,” she said.
'We love each other'
Fermon said the department had worked with several organizations, including ISP, Peru police and several search and rescue teams.
“We’re not too proud to reach out for help,” he said. “Our department is a great department, and sometimes if we need expertise or need some help, we'll say, ‘Hey, we got an idea,' and sometimes it's good to discuss with another organization.”
Day's mother pushed for national attention on the case, appearing on national television networks and news shows. She has offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to his location, and a GoFundMe fundraiser had generated more than $17,000 by Thursday afternoon.
Fermon said Thursday the department is glad when more media organizations start to spread information on missing person cases.
“We’re lucky the story had exploded as well as it did. ... More than likely it helped.”
Fermon also said their thoughts and prayers are with Day's family, his friends, and everyone who's involved.
"It kind of touched the hearts of everybody in America," Fermon said of the case.
He also asked the public to make sure they're supportive and empathetic on social media, as Day's family is going through the grieving process.
In her post, Bolden Day thanked “every single person who has thought about, prayed for, talked about and searched for Jelani. The love you’ve shown our family has sustained us and we will definitely need you even more in the days to come.
“We love each and every one of you for making Jelani’s story personal.”
Continuing Pantagraph coverage in the Jelani Day case
Jelani "J.J." Day, 25, was last seen on Aug. 24 entering the Beyond/Hello dispensary in Bloomington. Authorities on Sept. 23 said his body was found in the Illinois River.
Among the attendees is the Rev. Jesse Jackson. This burial comes 10 days after the family held a funeral service at Danville High School to honor the Illinois State University grad student.
Anyone with information on Jelani Day's death is asked to call 815-433-2161.
Hallie Bezner, attorney for Day’s family, also told The Pantagraph: “I think that people read between the lines to try to have some conspiracy that doesn't exist."
State law enforcement officials told The Pantagraph on Sunday that DNA backlogs did not slow down confirmation of the body found in the Illinois River last month as Jelani Day.
Teachers at Danville High School saw great potential in Julani Day.
During Jelani Day's celebration of life, his four siblings sing a tribute backs by a community choir. READ MORE HERE.
Carmen Bolden Day says to work does not end with laying her son to rest. READ MORE HERE.
“You’re not going to forget his name because I’m not going to let you,” Carmen Bolden Day said on Saturday.
Pantagraph journalists spent last week in Danville speaking to those who knew Day, and they described him as big-hearted, hard-working and on a path to success.
“He will never be forgotten, Dr. Jelani J.J. Day,” mother Carmen Bolden Day said at the event. "They're going to remember Jelani's name forever.”
BLOOMINGTON — A change.org petition asking for state and federal authorities to investigate the death of Illinois State University graduate st…
The LaSalle County Sheriff's Office announced this afternoon a person of interest sought by Peru Police has been cleared by investigators and is not a suspect in the case.
Bloomington police Officer John Fermon during a press conference discusses the search for Jelani Day, the Illinois State University student wh…
Missing ISU student identified after body found near Peru. READ MORE HERE.
A body found floating in the Illinois River in LaSalle County has been identified as that of missing Illinois State University graduate studen…
Authorities on Thursday said a body discovered in a river nearly three weeks ago has been confirmed as a graduate student missing from Illinoi…
Jelani Day, a 25-year-old graduate student at ISU, was last seen the morning of Aug. 24 walking into the Beyond / Hello in Bloomington, accord…
"We always say here, see something, hear something, know something, say something. Someone out there has seen, heard or knows something."
BLOOMINGTON — The president of Illinois State University during her annual address to the campus community spoke about a graduate student who …
BLOOMINGTON — A GoFundMe page to raise money for finding a missing Illinois State University student has generated $12,503 as of Monday.
BLOOMINGTON — The search for a missing Illinois State University graduate student has continued into its fourth week.
Authorities are investigating after body was recovered Saturday morning from the Illinois River near LaSalle-Peru.
"I want you to know, Jelani is not dead and we will find him," said his mother, speaking to a crowd of supporters on Friday night.
Carmen Bolden Day, mother of missing Illinois State University student Jelani Day, speaks at an event Friday night in support of the search for him.
BLOOMINGTON — For Carmen Bolden Day, no amount of money is worth keeping if she can’t have her son back.
Carmen Bolden Day, mother of Jelani Day, recounts the last phone call she had with her son prior to his disappearance. Several people gathered…
BLOOMINGTON — Police, family and friends continue to search for Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day after he went missing la…
BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington police said Friday that officers are continuing their search for Illinois State University graduate student Jelani J…
Jelani J.J. Day was reported missing Wednesday by his family and an Illinois State University faculty member.
Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.