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Jelani Day’s mother is 'still struggling' to find answers, 1 year after the ISU grad student’s death

Carmen Bolden Day and Jesse Jackson
Emily Bollinger
WGLT file
The Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Carmen Bolden Day during a tour and march in Peru on Oct. 26, 2021 to call for more investigation into her son's death.

The mother of Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day says she's had no time to find closure in the year since her son went missing and was later found dead in the Illinois River near Peru.

Carmen Bolden Day of Danville told The 21st show “every day is a struggle” as she still tries to figure out how her son died.

“I don’t even know if I have gotten to grieve,” she said. “If I’m grieving, I’m grieving through everything. I’m trying to handle everything, all of this at the same time. Life just keeps happening. Life doesn’t stop."

 Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day went missing Aug. 24. His body was discovered Sept. 4 in Peru, Ill.
Find Jelani Day
Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day went missing Aug. 24, 2021. His body was discovered Sept. 4, 2021, in Peru, Ill.

Day’s disappearance and death attracted national attention last year, but there’s been no new public information in the case since the 25-year-old’s phone was recovered several months after his body was found.

Bolden Day said she believes police were slow to investigate after her son disappeared, have not shared information with her on the investigation into his death. She said she’s had to rely on social media to find out developments in the case.

Bolden Day, who is Black, said she believes race may be a factor in how the police responded.

“Is the disparity that I have faced throughout all of this, had Jelani been a white male, had I been a white woman, maybe they would have paid more attention to me,” she said.

The LaSalle County coroner determined last October that Day drowned. Racial justice activists marched in Peru last year and visited where Day’s car was found and the area near where his body was found.

Jelani Day's family has started a foundation in his honor. Bolden Day said the family is accepting donations to help other minority families whose loved ones go missing.

“I want to make sure Jelani is a symbol for change,” Bolden Day said. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy and I wouldn’t want to see another mother, father or family have to endure the things we have endured and are enduring.”

The foundation will formally launch during an "All-White affair" the family will host at ISU's Bone Student Center on Saturday night.

According to the FBI, the Jelani Day task force is still taking tips in the case at 1-800-CALL-FBI. Last December, the task force announced a $10,000 reward for information that helps the investigation.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.