Who killed Jelani Day? Autopsy reveals Illinois grad student died by drowning

Coroner confirms body found on September 4 is Day's, cause of death confirmed as drawing as social media outraged

                            Who killed Jelani Day? Autopsy reveals Illinois grad student died by drowning
Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day had been missing since August Jelani Day (Twitter)

Tragic news continues to pile up as on September 23, the LaSalle County coroner confirmed that the body found on September 4 was that of Jelani Day. The Illinois State University student went missing on August 25 but only gained attention over the past few days after the massive interest in the case of Gabby Petito. The 25-year-old student's body was found floating in the Illinois River but it took 19 days to identify, sparking furious backlash on social media over the difference between the case of a White person and a Black person. His mother Carmen had said, "I feel like since this body has been found, and as I said, it’s unidentified, I don’t truly believe it is my son."

The Gabby Petito case has thrown the spotlight on several major missing person cases in the US, and the lack of equal attention. One Twitter user even compiled a comprehensive list of all the people still missing, to highlight the discrepancy. Among those many people is Tanya Fear, a British actress who was reported missing from Los Angeles on September 9. On September 3, Deidre Reid went missing in South Carolina and has not been heard from since.

UPDATE: On October 25, a coroner's report confirmed that the cause of Day's death was growing. LaSalle County coroner Richard Ploch noted that Day's body had no evidence of "pre-death injury" like assault, gunfire, strangulation, or "significant drug intoxication." That said, the report does not say how Day ended up drowning, which has become the cause of much anger for the family.


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While these are just a small sample, there are hundreds of people missing all over the US, with little media attention. Social media also seems furious that it took 19 days to identify Day, as compared to just a few to identify Petito. A cause of death has also not been confirmed, despite the autopsy being conducted on September 5. So naturally, social media has come up with its own theories for how Day died.

Jelani Day (Bloomington Police Department)


Was Jelani Day killed?

In a statement shared on social media, the Bloomington Police Department said, "Currently the cause of death is unknown, pending further investigation, and toxicology testing." He was identified through "forensic dental identification and DNA testing," they confirmed. Beyond that, little was mentioned about why it took so long to identify Day. As we previously reported, Day went missing on August 25 and was last seen in Bloomington. His vehicle was found in Peru, Illinois on August 26, but it took a further week to locate his body on the river, that runs next to the city.

Day's mother Carmen was also quick to slam the lack of coverage around her son's case, saying, "Her (Gabby Petito) face is plastered everywhere, and the FBI is involved. And I do not understand why Jelani doesn’t get that same coverage." She wasn't the only one. CNN reported that several other families of missing Black persons have come out to slam the lack of coverage around their loved ones. 

That discrepancy. as well as the lack of information around how Day died has caused quite a stir on social media. Many users believe he was killed, especially after John Fermon with the Bloomington PD said, "Foul play or not, it's unusual," about the case. Fermon did add though, "We haven’t said if there’s foul play or anything like that," so it's not clear if it is a homicide case just yet.

After the coroner's report was released, Day's mother said, "That is a narrative that my son did something to himself. He did not. Somebody did this to him, and they are going to be held responsible for doing what they did to my son." While the coroner does not explicitly call Day's death suicide, the report has been slammed as "a suicide line" by Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. The family believes that Day was killed, so questions still remain about who is responsible.

'Why wasn't the FBI brought into the case?'

Nonetheless, here's what social media had to say. One user tweeted, "If you're black you better be sure to get killed around the same time as a white woman so we can ID you." Another asked, "Who killed Jelani Day? Why wasn't the @FBI brought into the case right away?"




Another critical user tweeted, "How does it take 20 days to identify Jelani Day’s body but only 1 for that little white girl that was OBVIOUSLY killed by her boyfriend? It wasn’t a crazy mystery but still managed to get national news coverage. Jelani Day’s mom had to BEG for news stations to post about her son." Another asked, "Gabby Petito's body was identified a day after it was found. Anyone else wondering why it took NINETEEN days for Jelani's body to be identified?"




More details about Day's death could come out in the next few days, but it certainly appears to be a case of too little, too late. As CNN noted, Black people make up 31% of all active missing person cases, while being only 13% of the US population. Many, like Keeshae Jacobs, have been missing for years with little to no closure for families. Meanwhile, Petito's case continues to dominate the headlines, and resources of not just the police, but also the FBI.

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