The mother of Jelani Day, an Illinois graduate student whose body was identified nearly a month after he was reported missing, is criticizing the way authorities handled her son’s case.
“To them, Jelani didn’t mean anything,” Carmen Bolden Day told CNN on Friday. “There is no effort. There is no push. There is no nothing that was being done about my son.”
Day’s mother has been outspoken in recent days, pleading for help finding her son after the wave of interest sparked by the case of Gabby Petito — which illustrated disparities in cases where the missing person is White compared with those involving Black and brown people.
The LaSalle County Coroner confirmed Day’s identity through forensic dental identification and DNA testing and comparison, the office said Thursday in statement shared by the Bloomington Police Department. The cause of death remains unknown, authorities said, pending further investigation.
The coroner, Richard Ploch, on Friday declined to comment. CNN also sought comment from the Bloomington Police Department.
Day, a 25-year-old graduate student at Illinois State University whose mother said aspired to become a speech pathologist, was reported missing on August 25 in Bloomington, Illinois.
“Me and my kids, me and everybody that never knew Jelani — my family, friends, strangers — did all the leg work,” Bolden Day said. “My son didn’t get any type of help… He didn’t deserve this.”
On Thursday, Bloomington Police Officer John Fermon said that while the case recently received national attention, he believes it received a good amount of attention locally from the beginning and he sympathized with the cases that don’t get that exposure.
“We’re lucky the story actually exploded as well as it did, which may or may not have led to the tips that came in,” Fermon told reporters.
Day was last seen on August 24, and his vehicle was found in Peru, Illinois, a couple of days later on August 26.
An initial search took place on August 26. Fermon said there were extensive K-9 searches conducted by Illinois State Police, drone aerial searches by local jurisdictions, and ground searches. Nothing was found then or in subsequent searches, he said.
Authorities returned on September 4 and found the body that would later be identified as Day’s floating in the Illinois River.
“We got some information to give us that second search,” Fermon said, citing there is still a death investigation looking into the cause. “We were getting tips in, but that’s really as far as I’ll get. We were getting some tips in from around that location.”
An autopsy was conducted the day after the body was found, he said, but the LaSalle County Coroner has yet to release the results.
Carmen Bolden Day said authorities told her this week that clothes belonging to her son were found on the banks of the Illinois River.
She said that when the coroner informed her that he had finally obtained her son’s dental records, she inquired about the results of DNA testing.
“He said to me, ‘Do you want to know if this is your son or not?'” Bolden Day said. “They were so rude to me.”
Fermon said the search for Day involved 10 agencies and included specialized teams near the Peru area where the vehicle was found, with FBI assistance.
“FBI Springfield has been in communication with Bloomington police department for several weeks regarding the Jelani Day case,” spokeswoman Rebecca Cramblit said in a statement, declining to discuss “investigative details that have not been made available to the public at this time.”
Day’s case and others involving people of color are getting renewed attention following coverage of the disappearance of Petito, whose remains were recovered Sunday in Wyoming, where she had been exploring parks with her fiance.
“My son wasn’t involved in the streets,” Day’s mother said, choking up. “He wasn’t a gang banger… That could have been the narrative, then it would have been, well, let’s forget about him. But he was a productive citizen. I raised a good young man. And somebody did this to him.”