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Mother of missing Illinois State University grad student Jelani Day pleads for his safe return

The 25-year-old’s white 2010 Chrysler 300 was found in a wooded area of Peru, Illinois, last Thursday.

UPDATE: In September 2021, a body found in the Illinois River was identified by the LaSalle County coroner as Jelani Day. In August of 2023 -- two years after Jelani disappeared -- the NBC Chicago affiliate reported that "the coroner said the cause of death was drowning, but the manner of death -- homicide, suicide or accident -- remains undetermined." NBC Chicago also reported that the Peru Police Department said that the investigation remains open and that there is a $10,000 reward being offered for "substantial information."


An Illinois State University graduate student is still missing days after his vehicle was located abandoned in a wooded area of Peru, Illinois, last week. Authorities, along with his family, are pleading with the public for information on his whereabouts.

Jelani “J.J.” Day, 25, was last in touch with his family on Monday, August 23, 2021. They haven’t heard from him since, which is very “unlike him,” his mother Carmen Day told Dateline.

Jelani Day
Jelani Day

“I call him my ‘bill collector child,’” she said. “Because he just calls me and calls me, nonstop, several times a day. So to not hear from him in a week is very unlike him. Something’s not right.”

Jelani just started his first semester of graduate school in the Communication, Science and Disorders Department at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. He lives in an off-campus apartment in nearby Bloomington, but his mother told Dateline that he often comes home to Danville, Illinois, which is about an hour away.

On that Monday evening, Jelani also exchanged texts about coursework with the Director of Clinical Education at the University, Cara Boester, who told NBC affiliate WWEK-TV that they were supposed to meet the next morning.

“When he didn't show up, I texted to see what was going on and he didn't answer me,” she said. “I knew he had class at 1 p.m., so I waited for him after class and he didn't show up.”

She added that this sort of thing is not something their grad students would do, and certainly not something Jelani would do.

Boester notified campus police, who responded to Jelani’s parents house on Wednesday.

Jelani was seen on security video at ISU's student center at 7:20 a.m. on August 24, 2021.
Jelani was seen on security video at ISU's student center at 7:20 a.m. on August 24, 2021.Bloomington Police Department

His mother Carmen told Dateline that’s the day they found out he was missing. She explained that between her four other children, three who are older than Jelani, and one younger, they manage to keep tabs on each other.

“I had been busy planning for a trip I was about to take and didn’t realize my son hadn’t been calling me nonstop,” she said. “I just figured one of his brothers or sisters had spoken with him.”

The family made several attempts to reach Jelani, but calls to his cell phone went straight to voicemail. Carmen said her oldest son went to Jelani’s apartment with police and relayed that it appeared to be in order, but his white 2010 Chrysler 300 was also missing.

The family filed a missing persons report with the Bloomington Police Department on August 25 and police launched an investigation, searching for Jelani and his vehicle.

On the afternoon of Thursday, August 26, officers of the Peru Police Department in Peru, Illinois, discovered Jelani’s vehicle in a wooded area south of the Illinois Valley YMCA, according a press release issued by the Bloomington Police Department on August 27.

A command post was established and an extensive K9 search by Illinois State Police, drone aerial searches by Peru Fire and Utica Fire drones as well as a ground search by teams from Peru, Utica, and Oglesby Fire Departments were conducted. Peru Police were also assisted by detectives from Bloomington.

During the investigation, detectives obtained security video from ISU's Bone Student Center that shows Jelani at around 7:20 a.m. Tuesday, August 24. He is seen wearing a blue button-up collared dress shirt, black pants, a black belt, black dress shoes, and a blue face covering.

Carmen Day told Dateline that she accessed her son’s bank account and was able to see that he used his bank card at the Starbucks at the student center that morning.

On August 31, Bloomington Police released new security video from Tuesday, August 24, that shows Jelani entering a store called Beyond / Hello in Bloomington, at 9:12 a.m.

Jelani was seen on security video at a store called Beyond / Hello in Bloomington, at 9:12 a.m. on August 24, 2021.
Jelani was seen on security video at a store called Beyond / Hello in Bloomington, at 9:12 a.m. on August 24, 2021.

He’s seen wearing a blue Detroit Lions baseball hat, a black Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, white/silver shorts, and black shoes with white soles. Video from outside the business at that time shows Jelani’s white 2010 Chrysler 300 in the parking lot.

The clothing Jelani was seen wearing in the most recent footage was found in the vehicle on Thursday, police said. They are asking for information from anyone who may have seen Jelani between 9:12 a.m. August 24 and 4:20 p.m. August 26, when his car was found.

“He may be 25, but he’s still my baby,” Carmen said. “I just want my baby back. You can drop him off in the street, no questions asked. Just bring my baby back safe to me.”

She said Jelani is not the type to go off without talking to his family. He is also not the type to put himself in a dangerous situation. She said he was excited about his graduate program and had already gotten his report card, which boasted two As and two Bs.

Carmen’s family and friends have been posting Jelani’s photo to social media and putting up flyers all over campus, hoping someone will come forward with information.

"This is a very concerning situation," ISU spokesperson Eric Jome told WEEK-TV. "A number of his classmates have already begun putting up missing person flyers around campus and are helping get the word out.”

Bloomington Police spokesperson John Fermon told WEEK-TV on August 27 that they are asking the public to come forward if they have any information about Jelani’s whereabouts or if they remember seeing him or his Chrysler between Tuesday, August 24 at 7 a.m. and Thursday, August 26 at 4:20 p.m.

"It's unusual," Fermon added. "A lot of the things that are unfolding just seem unusual.”

Jelani’s mother told Dateline the more time passes, the more worried she becomes.

“He’s a vital part of our family and we need him home, please,” she said. “We love him and miss him. And if anyone out there has seen him or knows anything at all, please call the police. Call me. Call his siblings.”

Jelani is described as being 6’2” tall, weighing about 180 lbs. He has brown hair and brown eyes.

Anyone with information on Jelani Day’s case is asked to contact the Bloomington Police Department at (309) 820-8888 or Detective Paul Jones at 309-434-2548 or

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include new information released by Bloomington Police on August 31, which details Jelani's last known whereabouts depicted on security video on August 24.