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Missing Illinois grad student Jelani Day drowned, coroner says

Day's mother, Carmen Bolden Day, has suggested foul play may be to blame in her son's disappearance and death.

Jelani Day, an Illinois State University graduate student whose body was found in the Illinois River 10 days after he was reported missing, died by drowning, according to a coroner's report released Monday.

Day, 25, was a speech pathology student at the campus near Bloomington when his family reported him missing Aug. 25. His car was found the next day, leading searchers to focus on areas north of Bloomington near the river, police said.

Rescue crews found Day's body floating in the river near the city of Peru on Sept. 4, according to Bloomington police, who are investigating.

Police said security video showed Day going to a Bloomington cannabis dispensary called Beyond/Hello the morning of Aug. 24. It was "his last known location," the police department said in a statement last month.

Image: Jelani Day
Jelani Day.Bloomington, Ill., police dept.

The video showed the clothing he was wearing at the dispensary, police said: a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, a Detroit Lions baseball hat, light-colored shorts and black shoes, all of which was in his car when it was found, police said.

LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch said there was no evidence of injury, assault, altercation, gunfire, tumors, infection, natural disease, heart problems or "significant drug intoxication."

Day's case went national following the media coverage of Gabby Petito, 22, the subject of global attention after she was reported missing Sept. 11 and found dead eight days later. Critics noted that missing people of color often don't get the same kind of media attention.

Day's mother, Carmen Bolden Day, has suggested that foul play may have played a role in his death.

"He wasn’t depressed," she said last month. "He didn’t have any kind of pressures that would make him want to escape from life. So I do feel as if there was someone involved."

She joined with Day's former fraternity, the Nu Epsilon chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity at Alabama A&M University, his alma mater, in calling for federal authorities to take over the investigation this month.

A petition calling for federal intervention included a letter from the chapter that said, "The person(s) responsible for Jelani's death is now walking our community free, and we will not rest until those responsible are brought to justice."

Neither Day nor Bloomington police responded immediately to requests for comment.