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Jelani Day’s mother wants FBI to take charge of investigation into her son’s death

Carmen Day stood with national civil rights attorney Ben Crump and the Rev. Jesse Jackson Friday at Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters in calling for making the investigation a “priority.”

Attorney Ben Crump hugs Carmen Day, mother of Jelani Day, during a news conference Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters.
Attorney Ben Crump hugs Carmen Day, mother of Jelani Day, during a news conference Friday at Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

National civil rights attorney Ben Crump joined the mother of Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day on Friday in demanding the FBI take charge of the investigation into her son’s disappearance and death.

“I know I’m not the first mother who has lost a child, but when you lose a child and don’t know why, you don’t know what happened. … I don’t know how you cannot stop insisting that the people who have made pledges to protect and serve find the answers for you. I know that they are not magicians, but my son went missing,” Carmen Day said at Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters on the South Side.

Jelani Day, 25, was last seen Aug. 24. His family in Danville and a faculty member reported him missing after he did not show up for class for several days. His car was found Aug. 26 in Peru. A body pulled from the Illinois River near Peru in early September was identified almost three weeks later as Day’s.

LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch determined that Day drowned, also saying there was no evidence of strangulation, a fight or a gunshot wound.

A task force including the Illinois State Police, the Bloomington and Peru police departments, LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit continue to investigate Day’s death.

But Day’s mother and Crump said Friday that the investigation isn’t getting the full attention it deserves. They say Day was a smart, happy young man who would never have killed himself.

“He was doing everything right — everything right,” Crump said, with the Rev. Jesse Jackson at his side. “And so this strong mother and their family do not accept these suggestions, these innuendos that he was depressed, that there was something going on that caused him to commit suicide.”

Day said she’s had to do much of the investigating herself. She and Crump say the evidence — including Day’s car abandoned 60 miles from where he went to college — suggests a homicide, not a suicide.

“I need the FBI to come in and to take over because these local jurisdictions have shown us that they have not made this a priority, they have not made Jelani a priority,” Day said.

A spokesperson for FBI Chicago said in a statement Friday: “The FBI is always willing to assist at the request of local law enforcement and is in communication with the Peru Police department to provide resources as needed. Department of Justice policy prevents us from further commenting on investigations.”

Day contrasted her son’s case to that of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old woman who went missing while on a cross-country road trip with her fiance, Brian Laundrie. Petito’s story made national headlines for weeks.

“I had to watch on TV this young, white girl who went missing, whose parents hadn’t talked to her for over two weeks. So they began to be worried about their daughter,” Day said. “I empathized with them because I knew what it was like to be missing your child, but I hadn’t talked to my child for one day — one day, and I reported him missing, and it was crickets. I wasn’t getting any help. I didn’t have the resources. ... I didn’t have all the drones. I didn’t have all of the police officers.”

Contributing: The Associated Press