From trending hashtags to circulating an online campaign to increase media coverage, social media users are demanding answers in the case of Jelani Day, a 25-year-old Black graduate student who went missing in August before washing up in a river a week later.
The case took a twisted turn last week when the Chicago Sun-Times reported that an independent pathology report, commissioned by the family, found that some of Day’s organs and body parts were missing, seemingly contradicting an official autopsy. While Day’s family have not publicly addressed the contradictions, his mother clarified Monday that Day’s organs weren’t missing—but she nevertheless suspects foul play and is furious with the lack of media attention.
“[M]y son did not put himself in a river,” she said in a statement.
Day was a graduate student at Illinois State University, where he was pursuing a medical degree in speech pathology. He was reported missing on Aug. 24 after not attending classes for several days. The morning before he disappeared, he was captured on surveillance footage entering a Bloomington dispensary. On Aug. 26, his car was found about 60 miles outside of Bloomington. His body was discovered “floating near the south bank of the Illinois River” on Sept. 4, according to a Chicago-area coroner, but it was not identified until Sept. 23 because of its condition.
The LaSalle County coroner said that Day’s organs had decomposed due to the length of time his body had been submerged in water. No cause or manner of death was given.
But the family’s attorney, Hallie Bezner, said she was looking into other reasons the body deteriorated as much as it did. According to the Sun-Times, the family’s independent pathology investigation found that Day’s jaw may have been “sawed out,” and his brain, liver, spleen, and eyes could not be found. The report didn’t determine a cause or manner of death either.
“No organs were missing… There were contradicting facts from the first preliminary autopsy compared to the second independent autopsy, but this is not a case of organ harvesting,” Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, said in a statement Monday to Chicago’s Fox affiliate.
She added, “My son was murdered and my goal and purpose are to find out what happened and hold those responsible accountable!!!”
At an Oct. 10 funeral for Day, she said, “The journey does not stop here. I’m only getting ready to lay Jelani to rest. But I can’t rest because I don’t know what happened to him.”
Social media users have turned up the heat since the memorial, with some criticizing the lack of media coverage in comparison to the disappearance of Gabby Petito in Wyoming.
“Day’s mother had been basically begging the media to pay her son’s story the same attention that it had paid to Gabby Petito, and she’d been concerned that the authorities had been dragging their feet investigating her son’s disappearance,” one Instagram user said.
“[Carmen Day] says the focus on missing white women and not Blacks is an abomination,” journalist Roland Martin wrote on Instagram.
“Incident brings me back to learning about Emmett Till,” Twitter user @SwoleWorld wrote. “I just can’t believe this still happens, at least I don’t want to believe. I haven’t a clue what it’ll take to heal wounds like this but I’m steadily praying for peace and true justice. Rest in Power Jelani Day.”
The FBI Behavioral Unit has launched an investigation in addition to the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office’s probe.