The discovery of Jelani Day’s iPhone – a crucial clue in the unsolved case – was pure luck.
Six weeks after Jelani’s body was found in the Illinois River, a man driving on I-55 north in Bloomington stopped to secure a mattress strapped to the roof of his car. By chance, he looked at the side of the road and saw a broken iPhone, it was Jelani Day’s.
“I want to know who is involved. Who did he last have a conversation with? said Jelani’s brother, D’Andre.
D’Andre and his mother Carmen are convinced that the answers to what happened to Jelani lie in messages locked away in his iPhone which was sent to the FBI in Chicago.
“They couldn’t get inside the iPhone. They tell me there is software that is only available for iPhone until 11. Jelani had a 12 Max Pro,” said declared Carmen Bolden Day.
Law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation say Jelani’s Verizon cellphone records show his iPhone was turned off at 9:21 a.m. shortly after he was last seen buying marijuana at the Beyond Hello dispensary in Bloomington. His car was captured on video driving away.
Then his cell was apparently thrown from the car on the side of the road on I-55 North in Bloomington.
NBC5 Investigates obtained heavily redacted police emails via the Freedom of Information Act. An email refers to an “Apple iPhone extraction report” and notes “23 chats and 17 messages” found on Jelani’s cellphone. These details were cross-referenced from Jelani’s contact list.
Another email notes “six interesting phone numbers”, but a detective also writes “nothing crazy about extracting Jelani’s phone”.
Despite national attention to Jelani’s case, the family says no one has provided information that has proven conclusive.
“They didn’t even show up and said ‘yes, I remember talking to him (Jelani) that day,'” Carmen remarked.
Police also recovered Jelani’s car from a wooded area in Peru. The license plate had been removed and they found a partially smoked marijuana cigar in the car. There was something else – a diary – perhaps a possible clue to Jelani’s state of mind.
Police would not comment on the contents of the diary, but we know there was no suicide note. Carmen said Jelani’s diary started in 2016 but there were only two entries in 2021.
More puzzling was the discovery of Jelani’s sneakers and shorts on a riverbank north of where her body was found. Although the objects contained DNA, it was not Jelani’s and has still not been identified, raising even more questions for the family.
“I think there are people withholding information — for whatever reason — I don’t care,” D’Andre said.
The family reject any suggestion that Jelani killed himself saying he had everything to live for at the time of his death, even volunteering to donate stem cells to his father, who had leukemia and needed transplant.
Sadly, her father passed away in April.
The Day family has lost a son, a brother, and now a father, but their will to find out what happened to Jelani will never be extinguished.
Twenty-five-year-old Jelani Day was the fourth of Carmen Bolden Day’s five children raised in Danville, Illinois, two girls and three boys.
In August 2021, Jelani was about to earn a master’s degree in the competitive field of speech-language pathology at Illinois State University in Upstate Normal, Illinois, when he suddenly didn’t show up for class.
A week and a half after her mysterious disappearance, her body was found in the Illinois River in Peru, an hour north of the Bloomington Normal campus.
The LaSalle coroner’s report says Jelani drowned, but his mother Carmen says her son was an experienced swimmer and she suspects foul play.
In December 2021, the Joint Jelani Day Task Force was announced to help identify and coordinate new leads in the death investigation. The task force includes the Bloomington Police Department, Peru Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation-Chicago Division, LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office, LaSalle City Police Department, the State of Illinois and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
The public can submit tips, anonymously through 1-800-CALL-FBI. The FBI is offering up to $10,000 for “material information” and the family is offering up to $25,000 as a reward.