Jelani Day’s cause of death was drowning, unknown how he got into water: coroner

The forensic exam notes that "the manner in which Mr. Day went into the Illinois River is currently unknown."

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The death of Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day was caused by drowning, the LaSalle County Coroner revealed on Monday. 

It remains unclear how Day got in the water, with coroner Richard Ploch noting that “the manner in which Mr. Day went into the Illinois River is currently unknown,” as reported by CNN.

According to Bloomington Police Department, the 25-year-old aspiring doctor was last seen on the morning of Aug. 24, PEOPLE reported. His family reported him missing the next day after their unsuccessful attempts to reach him. Day also missed several days of classes, according to the missing persons report

On Aug. 26, his white 2010 Chrysler 300 was reportedly found abandoned in a wooded area near the Illinois Valley YMCA. Officers with the Peru Police Department inspected the vehicle and found the clothing Day was wearing when he was last seen. 

His body was found floating in the nearby Illinois River on Sept. 4, but his remains weren’t identified until late September.

Jelani Day
(Credit: Facebook/ Find Jelani Day)

Chicago Sun-Times journalist John W. Fountain reported that Day’s corpse had no eyeballs, was missing its front top and bottom teeth, and after a second autopsy by a private forensic pathologist it was determined that his jawbone had been “sawed out.” 

Reportedly, his organs were liquefied and his body had suffered bites from fish and turtles. Fountain points out that Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, never saw her son’s remains. Jelani’s grandmother and one of his brothers viewed his body before his closed casket funeral. 

According to the LaSalle County Coroner, the forensic exam of Day’s remains found, “there was no evidence of any (pre-death) injury, such as manual strangulation, an assault or altercation, sharp, blunt, or gunshot injury, infection, tumor, natural disease, congenital abnormality, or significant drug intoxication,” Ploch wrote.

Day’s family disagrees with the findings and still suspects foul play. They hired an independent private forensic pathologist to conduct a second autopsy.

“That is a narrative that my son did something to himself. He did not,” Day’s mother said at a general assembly meeting of Illinois State’s Black Student Union, CNN reports.

Bolden Day believes someone is responsible for her son’s death.

“Somebody did this to him, and they are going to be held responsible for doing what they did to my son,” she said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. was invited to speak at the meeting and he is also giving the side-eye to the LaSalle County Coroner’s report.

“I don’t believe it. That’s a suicide line. We don’t believe it,” Jackson said. “The Department of Justice and the attorney general needs to be a part of this.”

Last week, Jackson called for the FBI and the US Department of Justice to “conduct a thorough investigation because it smells like another Emmett Till case all over again,” he said in a statement.

The funeral for Jelani Day was held on Oct. 19, nearly two months after he was reported missing.

This article contains additional reporting from theGRIO’s Stephanie Guerilus and Biba Adams.

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