On Sept. 4, a body was found floating near the south bank of the river, not far from where crews discovered Day’s car, but officials said it could take weeks to make an identification.
“I just want to make sure that I find my baby,” his mother told WAND.
As a backlog in DNA cases prevented a swift identification, the case of another missing person — Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old who disappeared around the same time as Day — began generating massive interest. But as Petito’s body was found and identified, and people mourned her death, Day’s family waited in limbo.
On Thursday, however, the LaSalle County coroner said it was official: The body that authorities pulled out of the river was Day’s. Officer John Fermon, a Bloomington Police Department spokesman, said at a news conference that there were “issues” with the DNA testing and that the dental forensics were “an important aspect” of the identification process. He would not comment further on why the identification process took so long.
“At this moment there are more questions than answers surrounding Jelani’s disappearance and death, and that is where we will focus our energy,” Day’s family wrote Thursday on Facebook. “As of this moment, we do not know what happened to Jelani and we will not stop until we do.”
As photos of Petito flooded televisions and social media feeds, Day’s case has been cited as an example of how missing people of color typically receive less attention than their White counterparts. While Petito’s case later boosted interest in what happened to Day, the inequities were tangible for Day’s family.
“This is a common issue that [we] as minorities have faced for a long time: Whenever it comes to getting equal energy for a situation — and in this case, trying to find my brother — the same efforts and attention is hard for us to get,” Day’s brother, Seve, told The Post.
Jelani “JJ” Day was working toward a master’s degree in speech pathology at Illinois State University, WMAQ reported. But around Aug. 25, Day stopped showing up to his classes and his family stopped hearing from him, according to Bloomington police. A university faculty member and Day’s family reported him missing.
On Aug. 24, security cameras captured him walking on campus wearing a bright blue button down shirt, some slacks and dress shoes. Hours later, surveillance footage showed him walking into the Beyond/Hello cannabis dispensary in Bloomington, police said. That was the last time he was seen.
Two days later, in a wooded area south of the Illinois Valley YMCA in Peru, police discovered Day’s car, a white 2010 Chrysler 300.
“That’s very unusual to just find a car like that,” Fermon said.
Fermon said a cause of death cannot be determined until the coroner completes toxicology tests over an unspecified timeline. He declined to tell reporters whether law enforcement is investigating Day’s death as a homicide, though he did acknowledge Day’s disappearance was “suspicious.”
The officer added that Day was a “beloved member of the community” and “beloved student” at his school and that his case deserves the media attention it is now receiving.
“When you have a special person like that,” he said, “the news story is bound to explode.”