Ben Crump calls for hate crime investigation into death of Jelani Day

"The family is losing confidence in the local authorities — they want answers," Crump said.

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Famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump is demanding that the FBI take full control over the investigation into the death of Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day.

“As we approach 100 days without any answers, we are demanding that the FBI investigate this matter as a hate crime,” Crump said at a news conference on Friday, NPR reports. “The family is losing confidence in the local authorities — they want answers.”

Several state and local agencies as well as the FBI have been investigating the case.

According to the 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 Sept. 4, but his remains weren’t identified until late September.

Day’s official cause of death is by drowning, but how he got in the water remains a mystery. Coroner Richard Ploch noted in a September report that, “the manner in which Mr. Day went into the Illinois River is currently unknown,” as reported by CNN.

“None of it adds up,” said Crump, who was joined at the Chicago news conference by co-counsel B’Ivory LaMarr; Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

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 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 previously 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.

Jelani Day thegrio.com
(Credit: Facebook/ Find Jelani Day)

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

“Jelani was not depressed, he was not burdened,” Bolden Day said.

Day’s case failed to receive the same media attention as that of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old white woman who was reported missing in September, weeks after Day’s disappearance. Her remains were found in a national park in Wyoming and her boyfriend,  Brain Laundrie, became the prime suspect in her murder. His remains were found last month after what authorities said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

“Day’s case has received significantly less attention, revealing a deeply concerning disparity in the way missing persons cases are treated and covered for people of color,” Crump said in a statement.

“I didn’t have all the drones, I didn’t have all the police officers, I didn’t have all that — I still don’t have that,” Bolden Day said about the investigation into her son’s death.

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

While authorities have not explicitly said Day died by suicide, his mother said investigators implied that “Jelani did this to himself.”

“Jelani did not do this to himself,” his mother said. “I will never accept that that’s what happened to him.”

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