More than 100 people gathered Friday night at Illinois State University in support of the search for Jelani Day, a graduate student reported missing Aug. 25.
A reward is being offered by the family of Day, 25, for any information about his disappearance. Police say he was last seen the morning of Aug. 24 walking the Beyond/Hello dispensary in Bloomington.
"I want you to know, Jelani is not dead and we will find him," said his mother, Carmen Bolden Day, speaking to those who gathered at the Bone Student Center.
Day’s family, from Danville, has offered a $25,000 reward, and started a GoFundMe to add to that. As of Friday afternoon, it had raised over $7,000.
His mother told those assembled that she wanted to end any rumors that he was depressed or struggling with his mental health. If he had been struggling, he would have talked to his mother, siblings or other relatives, she said.
She said she also wanted people to know that Day is strong, and she asked supporters to pray for his continued strength.
"He knows how to defend himself," she said. "He knows how to take care of himself."
Day is described as a Black male, 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, with short black hair, brown eyes and some facial hair. Bloomington police are asking that anyone who might have seen Day, or know of his whereabouts, contact Detective Paul Jones at 309-434-2548 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bloomington police say Day was wearing a blue baseball hat, a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, white shorts and black shoes. But Day “will not be wearing this clothing,” according to police, because the clothes were found in Day’s car two days later.
The car was found in the afternoon of Aug. 26, concealed in a wooded area in Peru, about 60 miles north of Bloomington.
Day's mother said she wanted to thank those at ISU who made sure the family knew that they were available and willing to help. "I appreciate you all," she said. "You just don't know how much that your generosity, that your kindness and your love and your prayers, what they're doing for me and my family."
She also issued a continued plea for information: "If you hear something, if you're sitting in here and you know something, if you've seen something, it's not too late to tell. I need to know, because I need to have my son back home."
Earlier, Carmen Bolden Day told the Chicago Tribune that there has been judgment of her son because he was last seen at a marijuana dispensary.
“He is in no way perfect,” she said, but “whatever he bought, that does not make him a thug or whatever. ... I know that Jelani was raised in a good family home. He has a good foundation.”
“Jelani is a smart, bright intelligent young man” who loves to spend time with his family and eats indiscriminately (especially chicken), said his mother.
Her son, who ran track at Alabama A&M and is a member of the fraternity Omega Psi Phi, decided to go to graduate school to study speech pathology and become a doctor, “so that his mom would never have to work again,” said Day’s mother.
He was in his second semester at ISU and was supposed to be at the university on the day he disappeared, with clinicals and appointments scheduled with clients, said his mother. “Something deterred him or changed his mind,” she said.
Day’s mother is trying hard to get the word out about the disappearance of her son, who she said could be out of Illinois by now.
“I need you to see him, recognize him and grab him,” Day said.
The Chicago Tribune contributed to this story.
Get to know Illinois: 15 state symbols
Snack food — Popcorn
Amphibian — Eastern tiger salamander
Reptile — Painted turtle
Flower — Violet
Tree — White Oak
Bird — Cardinal
Insect — Monarch butterfly
Fish — Bluegill
Mineral — Fluorite
Animal — White-tailed deer
Fossil — The Tully Monster
Dance — Square dance
Prairie grass — Big Bluestem
Fruit — Gold Rush Apple
Soil — Drummer silty clay loam
Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison