Against the backdrop of a beautiful, peaceful blue sky, you could hear the wailing and cries from the family of Jelani Day as his casket was slowly lowered into its final resting place. The 25- year-old medical student’s body was found face down in the Illinois River in Peru, Illinois, 12 days after he was reported missing. There remain many unanswered questions about who murdered him and why.
It is those unanswered questions that continue to haunt Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day. It is the “dismissive” manner with which the coroner and the Bloomington police treated her that gives her the inner strength to continue searching for her son’s killer, and the motive.
In the interim, until those answers come to light, Jelani’s burial was partial closure to a terrible crime. The somber scene took place at his gravesite at the Spring Hill Cemetery in Danville, Illinois, more than a mile away from where Day’s body was found.
Gathered under a blue tent that shielded Jelani’s open gravesite, his mother, his father, Seve Day, and family and friends that included Reverend Jesse Jackson and his son Jonathan Jackson stood side by side.
An Army veteran, Mrs. Day, the mourning mother of five, tried hard to contain her emotions, but seeing her son’s casket being prepared to be lowered into the ground was too overwhelming. She unashamedly hugged the casket with three red roses resting atop it. Her wails were carried across the cemetery. Jelani’s father could be heard gasping, “My boy. I love you,” as he wiped away tears, eyes fixed on his son’s casket being slowly lowered into the ground.
Later during a repast at Mrs. Day’s home, Jelani’s father said, “I am going to miss him. He will be with me for the rest of my life. It will hurt always. He was going with me to the hospital during my cancer treatment. He was there with me when I had my heart transplant in 2018. It hurts. It’s a big loss. “Someone…something happened to him. I taught my kids to fight. My son wouldn’t let just one person do it. He didn’t kill himself for sure. He was a fighter,” Mr. Day said. “I keep my blinds closed and continue to pray while we seek justice.”
At the repast, Bishop Tavis Grant from the Rainbow PUSH Coalition said, “Today has been overwhelming to see how this family has demonstrated the great tenacity and sense of presence that Jelani is gone physically but still here spiritually. You can somehow feel him in the house, among the family members in a way that is empowering.
“It is most impactful that they have a sense of dignity about this,” Grant said. “They are not defeated, that they will yet get justice for this horrific moment. They can turn a minus into a plus.”
Like Mrs. Day, Grant said this case is baffling “from a social standpoint, the people Jelani had socialized with to what ultimately led to his demise, along with the dysfunction and the incompetence of the various law enforcement agencies and individuals looking for him and never found him.
“Had it not been for his mother’s relentless, undaunting passion to find her baby, we would not know what we know now. We don’t know it all, which is why the process must continue,” Grant said.
Last Saturday, October 16, and Sunday, October 17, on WVON’s “On The Case show, she said the last time she saw her son was a week before he went missing on August 24, 2021, as well as she told the Crusader. His body was found on September 4.
“I don’t know what happened to Jelani,” Mrs. Day said sobbing. “I don’t have any closure. My son should not be over there,” she said referring to his gravesite.
Jackson has joined Mrs. Day in calling for the FBI to intervene with its resources to find out who murdered Jelani and why her son was killed. Jackson and his son Jonathan Jackson will attend a noon march on Tuesday, October 26, in Peru, Illinois.
“We will be asking that the sheriff help us with any leads, and we will be asking the citizens of Peru if they know any facts or rumors to assist us so we can help bring about closure to this family,” Jonathan Jackson said.
“We are concerned about the delay and the dragging of their feet of those sheriffs and police officers in both counties. Right now, a mother, a father have buried their son, and they don’t know what happened and that is not right,” Jonathan Jackson said.
He accused the police of “dropping the ball” in the investigation of Jelani’s case, considering “the timeline, the scope of the investigation from the August 24 missing of Jelani to August 26 to September 4 when the body was found. His car was within a mile of the body; yet there was not a comprehensive search.
“There is medical technology to help find bodies 100 years old in Tulsa, to find Gabby Petito’s remains. The same technology could have been used to find the remains of Jelani. We are very much concerned about why there was not equal justice applied,” Jonathan Jackson said.
Many questions swirled around in the mind of Mrs. Day.
The condition of her son’s body was troubling to her. “I don’t know if his eyes were gouged out. His eyes were missing. The second autopsy said it couldn’t have been (missing) from fish or turtle activity; however, the third autopsy said there was a possibility that it could have been from fish because he was face down in the water,” she explained.
“So far, they have not told me there were bruises on his body, and there has been no cause of death given to me,” she stated. Mrs. Day also said she received conflicting reports from the coroner who initially told her the DNA would take months to receive, then “all of a sudden they had the DNA.” She is not 100 percent sure the body is that of her son, especially since she said the coroner told her the gender of the body could not be ascertained.
In a statement given to the media, LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch said that Day’s cause of death and how he died are still unknown. Police said Day’s case was “suspicious” and “unusual.”
Mrs. Day told the Crusader that the coroner was “very rude to me. The coroner told me, ‘either you want to find out this is your son, or you don’t’.” She also said, “the Peru Police Department was very rude to me, like the coroner they, too, were dismissive.” The police, she said, “had no empathy.”
Admitting she had more questions than answers, Mrs. Day said her son’s car was found in Peru, Illinois, in a wooded area behind the YMCA, which is a mile-and-a-half from where her son’s body was found.
Mrs. Day is calling on the FBI to intervene in her son’s case.
When asked what kind of son Jelani was, Mrs. Day’s face lit up explaining, “He is very outgoing, smart. He loves to have fun. He’s energetic. He’s sweet and compassionate. He is kind and caring. He’s one of the best things that happened to me.
About the murder of her son, Mrs. Day, said, “I am angry. I am hurt.”
A U.S. Army veteran, she has vowed to continue her fight for justice for her son and said, “While Jelani was on this earth, there was nothing that he could ever have done or did, that I wouldn’t be there for him. So, in his absence, I am still present, still protecting him. I will still fight for him. I always have and I always will,” she told the Crusader.
Mrs. Day said her son was studying to be a speech pathologist. “Jelani was doing graduate study at Illinois State University in Bloomington, Illinois. He had a friend growing up in kindergarten who had trouble speaking. He wasn’t very articulate. Jelani is a great speaker. He often defended his friend because he did not know how to articulate; so, Jelani spoke up for him,” she said. “And today, I am speaking up for him. We will continue to fight for justice for Jelani.”