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October 17, 2021

Body found in river identified as Jelani Day, missing Illinois State University student

Body found in river identified as Jelani Day, missing Illinois State University student

The body of a missing Illinois State University graduate student has been recovered after a monthlong search that drew criticism from family members, who said law enforcement officials were not taking his disappearance as seriously as that of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old white woman.

On Thursday, the LaSalle County coroner identified a body found floating in the Illinois River this month as that of Jelani “JJ” Day, 25, of Bloomington.

Day, who is Black, was in his first semester of graduate school in the communication sciences and disorders department at Illinois State University in Normal. He was studying speech pathology.

Day was last seen on campus Aug. 24, and his last known location was at Beyond/Hello cannabis dispensary in Bloomington, law enforcement officials said. Two days later, his car was found about an hour north in Peru, Illinois.

Authorities combed the area for several days using dogs, drones and ground search and rescue teams. A cause of death has not been determined.

His family is one of several who told NBC News it has been painful to see the disparities between the cases of their loved ones and Petito’s, whose disappearance and death drew national attention.

“I understand what [Petito’s] family is going through, because we are going through that right now,” Day’s brother, D’Andre Day, has said.

“Jelani just didn’t disappear. Somebody knows what happened. Somebody needs to report what happened,” he said. “We need everybody involved, the same way they were involved with Gabby.”

Alicia Victoria Lozano is a California-based reporter for NBC News focusing on climate change, wildfires and the changing politics of drug laws.

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