LASALLE — People from several states gathered Friday afternoon at the Illinois & Michigan Canal Boat Dock in LaSalle to release balloons in memory of Jelani Day.
The Illinois State University grad student’s body was found Sept. 4 by a search party west of the dock on the south banks of the Illinois River, upstream of the Illinois Route 251 bridge. He was reported missing 10 days before.
His mother, Carmen Bolden Day, said the dock was the closest they could get to where Jelani was found for the balloon release. She walked east along the canal, leading the party of over 100 people to where she said her son’s clothes were found.
Bolden Day said she wanted people to know her son didn’t willingly go to the river. She also thanked people for coming and “showing love to us.”
“He will never be forgotten, Dr. Jelani J.J. Day,” she said.
"They're going to remember Jelani's name forever.”
As the balloons were released, the crowd chanted “justice for Jelani!”
Demetrius Cleare said he and several other classmates had flown in from Alabama A&M University for Day's celebration of life this weekend. He told The Pantagraph Day was part of their dance team: House Arrest 2 Championship.
He said Day was very outspoken on the team and “his energy was thriving.”
“He touched everybody,” Cleare said, adding that “you wanted to connect with him when you met him.”
“Something’s crazy, something just doesn’t add up,” he said, “so, we just want to get to the bottom and get to the truth.”
Cleare said he thought the balloon release would be an impactful moment. He also said it will be something to remember, and “it’s just the first step.”
“There’s more statements to be made and truth to be found,” Cleare said.
Nicole Molina, who’s from the LaSalle-Peru area, was also there to release balloons.
“As a mother, we mourn with her, and we feel for the loss of her son,” she said.
Jerry Wilson, a family friend from Shiloh, drove up to be part of the release. He said seeing the balloons fly would be a step toward healing, "which certainly this family needs."
He agreed that events like Friday's are important to keep Jelani's name out there.
"Awareness is key," Wilson said, "because at the end of the day, this does not resolve why we're here, and we ultimately want to get to the why."
He asked people living in the area to continue supporting the family and to contact authorities if they know something.
Also at the event was Jennifer Severado, who said she took a flight from Phoenix. She told The Pantagraph that she and her husband are first cousins with the Day family.
"This is a very close family," Severado said. "Very close.
"They get together every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, and then 100 things in between."
She said they all plan to spend Thanksgiving in Florida, and Jelani had already paid his airfare to be with them.
"(Jelani) was a beautiful person," Severado said, while tearing up.
Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison