Coroner: Jelani Day's Cause of Death Was Drowning, But His Mother Doesn't Believe It

Jelani Day
Jelani Day.Handout

"My baby was killed," Jelani Day's mother, Carmen Bolden Day, wrote in a Facebook post. "He did not drown himself."

The cause of death for missing Illinois graduate student Jelani Day was drowning, the LaSalle County coroner has announced. But Day's mother and civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson say they believe the 25-year-old was murdered.

"I don't care what their press releases say, my baby was killed," Carmen Bolden Day wrote in a Facebook post. "He did not drown himself."

The county medical examiner, Richard Ploch wrote, “The cause of death of this positively identified 25-year-old male, Jelani Jesse Javonte Day, is drowning,” in the autopsy report. How the speech pathology student at Illinois State University ended up in a river some 60 miles from his home has not been determined, he said.

"There was no evidence of antemortem 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 said.

Police have been investigating the disappearance of Day since Aug. 25, when he was reporting missing. Nearly a month later, his badly decomposed body was formally identified as belonging to Day.

A multi-jurisdictional task force including the Illinois State Police, local police departments, the LaSalle County sheriff’s office and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit are probing Day’s death.

His bloated remains were pulled from the Illinois River 10 days after he vanished. They were floating about an hour's drive from where he lived in Bloomington.

Bolden Day said her son was an "avid swimmer" and had shown no signs of being depressed or suicidal.

Jackson and members of his Rainbow PUSH Coalition spoke to the university's Black Student Union Monday night after the coroner's ruling was disclosed. 

“The persons that killed Jelani Day are alive tonight, walking the streets among us,” Jackson said. “Whoever killed him, let the record show it.”

Jackson and Day's family have called for the FBI to take over the case.

Day was not the type of young man to go off the radar, his family said. He did not ignore calls and texts from family and friends. He was a responsible, dedicated graduate student. He had graduated from Alabama A&M University with a bachelor's degree in speech pathology. 

He wanted to be a doctor. 

His case received national media attention after his grief-stricken mother said "Missing White Woman Syndrome" resulted in the disappearance of Gabby Petito. a 22-year-old blonde who vanished on a road trip with her fiancé, receiving far more attention than her missing Black son.

"We're empathetic with Jelani's family. If I was in her shoes I would probably feel the way she does," Bloomington Police Department spokesman John Fermon told Inside Edition Digital last week, referring to Day's mother. "If it was my son, I'd want answers yesterday," he said.

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