One Year Later: Jelani Day's mother still determined to find out what happened to her son

Samantha Chatman Image
Thursday, August 25, 2022
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Illinois State University student Jelani Day was last seen alive one year ago today. His mother is still determined to find out what happened to her son.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- On the outside, Carmen Bolden Day appears strong and unrelenting, but deep down Jelani Day's mother said her heart breaks daily because she still doesn't know what happened to her son.

Day was a graduate student studying speech pathology at Illinois State University. He was last seen on the campus on August 24, 2021. The next morning, Bolden said he didn't answer his calls.

RELATED: Jelani Day's family looking for answers after missing ISU student found dead in river

"If I text him, Jelani would text me back, let me know, 'Mom I'm going to call you right back,' or he would call me, but I didn't get a text back. So I just went into panic mode," she said.

The last sighting of him was captured on surveillance video, showing him waiting in line at a marijuana dispensary in Bloomington. Days later police found his car in a wooded area in Peru, Illinois, about 60 miles north of campus.

"I think back on those days, and I get angry because I didn't receive the help and assistance from the police here," Bolden Day said.

READ MORE: Mother of ISU student pulled from river clarifies autopsy 'contradictions'

She said she initiated her own searches with the help of family and people on social media, but she could only do so much.

"I still didn't go down to that river. And I should have," she said.

Nearly two weeks after his disappearance, Day's body was found in the Illinois River nearly two miles from where his car was discovered. The coroner ruled his cause of death to be drowning, but Bolden Day is certain he did not die by suicide.

RELATED: ISU graduate student drowned, LaSalle Co. coroner says

"It's foul play. Absolutely. And somebody's covering up something for somebody, because none of this makes sense," she said.

Bolden Day said the delays in her son's case have been unacceptable; in particular, the delay accessing his phone.

READ MORE: Mother shows why she believes foul play was involved in Jelani Day's death

"The FBI has the phone and they can't unlock it," Bolden Day said. "His radio from his car, which is supposed to be a vital thing that can actually, they believe that it can tell where the car was, they claim that this radio is in Quantico but it's on a two-year backlog."

ABC7 asked the FBI about these pieces of evidence, but the agency said it can't comment on active investigations. Bolden Day said her son's car should be sitting in a more secure area.

The Peru Police Department wouldn't tell the I-Team why Day's car is sitting outside and would not speak on camera, but did give a statement on behalf of the Jelani Day Joint Taskforce saying in part, "Complex death investigations take time to thoroughly investigate, and the Jelani Day Joint Task Force is employing all available investigative techniques to bring this case to a resolution as soon as possible. The task force continues to solicit tips from the public, and the $10,000 reward for substantial information regarding Day's final hours remains active."

Despite many questions that remain unanswered, Bolden Day said she won't grow weary, and that she owes it to her son to keep going.

"I love him," she said. "I want him to know I'm not going to let people forget about him. I'm going to find out what happened to him."

The FBI is still taking tips on Jelani Day's case. If you have any information, call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

Bolden Day is launching the Jelani Day Foundation, which helps families of missing people of color get the assistance and attention they need to find their loved ones. It will be launched on Saturday at an event on ISU's campus.

For more information, visit thejelanidayfoundation.org.