Police Have Not Announced How Jelani Day Died, But Say His Death Was 'Unusual' 

Jelani Day’s body was found in the Illinois River on September 4, and was identified Thursday

Jelani Day
Jelani Day. Photo: Bloomington Police Department

Police in Illinois are still trying to figure out what happened to Jelani Day, a graduate student at Illinois State University who was found dead earlier this month.

Day's body was found in the Illinois River on September 4. The coroner identified his remains on September 23.

"From a police standpoint it was unusual from the get-go," Bloomington Police Officer John Fermon tells PEOPLE. "That is why we had a detective assigned the next day."

His cause and manner of death are unknown.

"It is still pending investigation," Fermon says.

Jelani Day
Jelani Day. Bloomington Police Department

Day was last seen at a cannabis dispensary on Aug. 24. His family reported him missing the next day, and search efforts began.

The LaSalle County Coroner's office discovered a body during search efforts near LaSalle and Peru, which are both about 60 miles from Day's university. The coroner identified the body as Day "through forensic dental identification and DNA testing and comparison," and his "cause of death is unknown, pending further investigation, and toxicology testing."

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The aspiring doctor's car was found in Peru on Aug. 26. The Peru Police Department set up a command post there, and an "extensive K9 search was conducted" in addition to drone aerial searches and a ground search.

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As the days went by, searches continued, but Day was nowhere to be found. On Sept. 4, the searched broadened to include the area of LaSalle and Peru, and "a male decedent," now identified as Day, "was recovered floating near the south bank of the Illinois River approximately ¼ mile east of the Illinois Rt. 251 Bridge."

Fermon says his disappearance is different from most missing adults they investigate.

"Usually when we have missing persons or runaways there is usually a story behind why they ran away," he says. "They might have had marital issues or they just wanted to get away. He was close with his family. He was attending ISU. There wasn't an underlying explanation as to why he went missing. Usually there is an underlying reason why they go missing and there wasn't for Jelani. He just went missing and that is why we are trying to determine the circumstances around him going missing."

Day's family wrote on Facebook that they were devastated by the news of his death.

"Our hearts are broken," they wrote.

The family said they won't stop until they find out what happened to him and have hired a private investigator to help.

"At this moment there are more questions than answers surrounding Jelani's disappearance and death, and that is where we will focus our energy," they wrote. "As of this moment, we do not know what happened to Jelani and we will not stop until we do."

Fermon said finding out what happened could "take months or weeks to figure out the circumstances or we may never find out, sometimes you just never know," he says.

Anyone with information about Day's whereabouts is asked to contact Bloomington Police Department Detective Paul Jones at 309-434-2548 or at Pjones@cityblm.org.

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