THE family of Jelani Day, a 24-year old graduate student who was found dead in the Illinios River wants answers after it was ruled he drowned despite being an "avid swimmer" - as his grieving mom demands the same attention as the Gabby Petito case.
The LaSalle County, Illi. Coroner wrote Monday that the 25-year-old graduate student died from "drowning" with no evidence of pre-death injury but added, "the manner in which Mr. Day went into the Illinois River is currently unknown.", CNN reports.
However, his mother, Carmen Day, said she believes her son, who she insists was a strong swimmer, may have come to harm.
"An avid swimmer doesn't drown himself," she said. "So Jelani ended up here against his will, he ended up in that river against his will. He was drowned against his will. So, that is all equivalent to murder."
On Tuesday, Carmen Bolden Day attended a march for her son in Peru, Ill., less than 24 hours after the LaSalle County Coroner's Office announced its determination.
Day was an aspiring speech pathologist, enrolled as a graduate student at Illinois State University. He was last seen in Bloomington, Ill., on Aug. 24, and reported missing the following day.
On Aug. 26, Day's car was located in Peru, a town his mother says he is unfamiliar with.
Day was last seen at about 7.20am on the day he went missing wearing a blue button-up collared dress shirt, black pants, a black belt, black dress shoes, and a blue face covering.
However, two hours later at 9.12am video footage from Beyond/Hello, a Bloomington cannabis dispensary shows Day wearing a blue Detroit Lions baseball hat, a black Jimi "Hendrix" band shirt with a unique graphic, white or silver shorts, and black shoes with white soles.
The cause of death was not immediately known and was pending further investigation and toxicology testing, the coroner's office said.
Day's got support from US Rep. Bobby Rush of the nearby Illinois 1st District, who backed her call for the FBI to take over the case, though that usually only happens when a federal crime may have been committed.
Rush wrote to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking them to intervene, in a letter first reported by CNN.
In the letter, Rush compared the case to the "modern-day Emmitt Till" saying "the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been leading the investigation into the disappearance of Gabby Petito, who went missing around the same time as Jelani Day.
"While the outcome was also unfortunate and tragic, I am hopeful that having received timely answers will provide her family a level of comfort and closure," Rush wrote.
Siobhan Johnson, spokesperson at the FBI's Chicago Field Office, said agents were always willing to offer help if requested and were in touch with the Peru Police Department to provide resources.
The Day family, who previously released a statement, used the hashtag #WhatHappenedToJelaniDay to encourage conversation and urge the same national attention that was received for the Gabby Petito case.
Petito was a 22-year-old who went on a cross-country road trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, and never returned home.
She was last seen on August 24, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her body was found on September 19 in Grand Teton National Park, and the cause of death was revealed to be strangulation.
Her fiance, Laundrie, was missing for more than a month but on October 21 the FBI announced remains found at the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve and Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park belonged to Laundrie.
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During the search for Day, authorities also discovered an unidentified body in the area where his car was last seen, with the LaSalle County Coroner office saying that DNA results are still pending, according to WFLD.