Cause of Death Announced for Grad Student Found in River

Coroner says Jelani Day, 25, drowned in Illinois River; Day's family says he was murdered
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 24, 2021 10:54 AM CDT
Updated Oct 26, 2021 9:45 AM CDT
Missing Grad Student Found Dead in River
Jelani Day was last seen in Bloomington, Ill., on Aug. 24.   (Bloomington Police Department)

(Newser) Update: Jelani Day, the Illinois State University grad student found dead in the Illinois River on Sept. 4, died by drowning, a coroner announced Monday. LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch noted the autopsy wasn't ideal, as the body had decomposed and been visited by predators. Still, "there was no evidence of any (pre-death) injury" or "significant drug intoxication," per CNN. The 25-year-old had been spotted at a pot dispensary on Aug. 24, two days before his vehicle was found near the river, 60 miles north of his Bloomington home. It remains unknown how Day went into the waterway. His family—who believes Day was murdered, per WLS—sought a second autopsy, the results of which haven't been released. Our original story from Sept. 24 follows:

The search for Jelani Day, a grad student who disappeared in Illinois a month ago, is over. The Bloomington Police Department confirmed Thursday that a body found floating in the Illinois River on Sept. 4 has been identified as the 25-year-old Illinois State University student, USA Today reports. Day, who was pursuing a master's degree in speech pathology, was last seen on campus and at a pot dispensary in Bloomington on Aug. 24. He was reported missing the next day and his car was found in a wooded area in Peru, 60 miles north of Bloomington, on Aug. 26.

Police say the body was identified through dental records and DNA comparison. The cause of death has not been determined. "Foul play or not, it's unusual," says Bloomington police spokesman John Fermon; an investigation is ongoing. The Black student's disappearance got fresh attention in recent days amid criticism of the amount of media attention paid to the Gabby Petito case, NPR reports. His mother, Carmen Bolden Day, said that while she doesn't object to the media and law enforcement paying a lot of attention to Petito, she wishes her son was getting the same amount of attention. "It makes me mad because this young white girl is getting that attention and my young Black son is not," she told local media.

Fermon said Thursday that while Day's case didn't get much attention nationally, it had been relatively prominent locally from the beginning. "We're lucky the story actually exploded as well as it did, which may or may not have led to the tips that came in," Fermon said, per CNN. "We've had people going out of their way, drive a few hours, just to walk around." Illinois State University President Terri Kinzy, describing Day as "kind, intelligent, and caring," told students Thursday that a celebration of his life is being planned. (Read more missing person stories.)

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