OTTAWA — The investigation into the death of Jelani Day will continue as family and friends mourn in his hometown of Danville.
Thursday’s painful revelation — that the body found Sept. 4 along the Illinois River near Peru was indeed Mr. Day — won’t slow authorities in their pursuit of answers, they said.
The probe “didn’t stop because a body was found,” said John Fermon, a spokesman for the Bloomington Police Department.
Back in Danville, the family of Mr. Day asked for prayers from the public and help from authorities.
In a statement on the “Find Jelani Day” page on Facebook, the family wrote: “There are no words to clearly communicate our devastation. ... Our hearts are broken.
“We ask that you continue to pray for our family during what will be very hard days ahead. Throughout these 30 days, our very first concern was finding Jelani, and now we need to find out #WhatHappened ToJelaniDay.”
“At this moment, there are more questions than answers surrounding Jelani’s disappearance and death, and that is where we will focus our energy. As of this moment, we do not know what happened to Jelani and we will not stop until we do.
“This week, we learned new evidence has been discovered and police are working new leads related to Jelani’s disappearance. This case is not closed and the investigation is not over.
“We STILL need people who have information to come forward. If you know anything about what happened to Jelani, or had contact with Jelani in the days and weeks before his disappearance, please contact Bloomington Police Detective Paul Jones at 309-434-2548 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The family said it has hired JAB Professional Services to assist police and will be offering “a $25,000+ cash reward” for information that leads to an arrest.
It also directed the public to a GoFundMe page, where nearly $19,000 had been raised as of Thursday evening.
In Bloomington on Thursday, Fermon said police from that department would join Peru police, the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office, Illinois State Police and the FBI in investigating Mr. Day’s death.
Fermon said most of the details of the investigation can’t be released because the case is ongoing.
In most of these types of cases, he said, an investigation is not launched until 10 days after a person is reported missing. But Mr. Day’s case was out of the ordinary. His mother, Carmen Bolden Day, said her son called her at least once a day, but he failed to do so on Aug. 24 or 25.
“It was just so unusual and somewhat suspicious,” Fermon said. “This is not normally how missing-persons (cases) go.”
He said “time will tell” whether the case is classified as a homicide, noting the LaSalle County Coroner’s Office has more information on the condition of the body.
Mr. Day had last been seen on camera Aug. 24 going into a store in Bloomington. His vehicle was found two days later in a wooded area near Peru.
His mother said she was told her son’s billfold was found on the street. A witness told police a person was seen dropping the billfold.
In recent days, some questioned why there was not more public scrutiny regarding the case of Mr. Day, a Black man, compared to the national attention for Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old White woman from Florida who disappeared while on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend and whose remains were recently found in Wyoming.
The Day case changed within the past week, and Fermon said he welcomed the additional publicity.
“We got 50-something (news outlets) across America talking about this case,” he said. “A lot of our high-risk missing persons in the city don’t get the attention they deserve, either. There is one teenage girl in the Chicago area, a 16-year-old who might be in Guatemala. We’ll take the criticism. Part of our job isn’t to release all the details.
“From the get go, it got a decent amount of media attention,” he said. “The story has taken off more the last few days.”
Fermon said Mr. Day, an Illinois State University graduate student who was studying to be a speech pathologist, was beloved, as evidenced by the large number of people who volunteered to help with the search.
“Jelani was a great person and had so many friends. People were reaching out to help. People who touch others in a personal way ... kind of get that reaction,” he said. “We have had people driving out of their way a couple hours to search or email” offering to help however they could.
Fermon said police began receiving additional information to target a larger area around LaSalle-Peru.
Family members had expressed frustration that DNA test results were being delayed.
“I think the coroner up there said the state police crime lab ... there is a backlog up there,” Fermon said. “I think they ran out of a testing agent. I’m hearing that third party.”
He said the department’s cybercrimes unit was actively involved in the investigation.
In Thursday’s statement, Mr. Day’s family said it would continue to share information as it became available and offered gratitude to all who’ve “thought about, prayed for, talked about and searched for Jelani.”
“The love you’ve shown our family has sustained us and we will definitely need you even more in the days to come,” the family wrote. “We love each and every one of you for making Jelani’s story personal.”