Mom of Illinois State Student Found Dead in River Believes Son Was Murdered

The mother of a Black Illinois State University student is calling for her son's death to be considered a hate crime.

Carmen Bolden Day, the mother of Jelani Day, hired prominent attorney Ben Crump to represent the family. The 25-year-old speech pathology graduate student was declared missing at the end of August 2021, with his body being recovered in September from the Illinois River near the city of Peru. While the LaSalle County coroner claimed that there was no evidence of an altercation on Jelani's body, his mother said that she believes her son was murdered in a hate crime.

"I know I'm not the first mother who has lost a child, but when you lose a child and don't know why," Bolden Day said at a press conference on Friday, "I don't know how you cannot stop insisting that the people who have made pledges to protect and serve find the answers for you. I know that they are not magicians, but my son went missing."

According to The Chicago Sun-Times, she cited her own investigations into her son's death, such as finding that his car was abandoned 60 miles from his university, as evidence that he was murdered. She is asking for more authorities to come in and investigate the case.

"I need the FBI to come in and to take over because these local jurisdictions have shown us that they have not made this a priority, they have not made Jelani a priority," Day said.

Crump and the Reverend Jesse Jackson stood beside Bolden Day during the press conference. The lawyer has become a notable figure in recent years after representing the families of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, and Michael Brown along with several others.

Newsweek reached out to Crump for comment.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Ben Crump
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump was hired by Carmen Bolden Day, the mother of Jelani Day, to help investigate the Illinois State University student's death. Crump is joined by family members of victims of racial injustice at the Capitol in Washington, on April 29. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file

A coroner determined in October that Day died from drowning but said it was unclear how the 25-year-old had gone into the Illinois River.

Authorities have said his death remains under investigation.

"Ben feels Jelani is also his brother, and he wants to help find more answers and so do I," Carmen Bolden Day said in the news release sent by Jackson's publicist.

She has said her son wanted to become a doctor and was pursuing a master's degree in speech pathology at Illinois State. He was last seen on the Normal, Illinois, campus on August 24. Day's family in Danville and a faculty member reported him missing after he failed to show up for class for several days.

The LaSalle County Sheriff's Department announced last month that Day's cell phone had been found and sent to the FBI for forensic testing.

Jelani Day Missing Person Poster
Jelani Day's mother recently hired attorney Ben Crump to help find answers in her son's death. Carmen Bolden Day believes her son's death was the result of a hate crime. Bloomington Police Department