Jelani Day-inspired bill clears Illinois Senate

Bill would require coroners to notify FBI within 72 hours of discovery of unidentified body

Jelani J. Day, 25, of Bloomington, was a graduate student at Illinois State University.

The Jelani Day case has inspired an Illinois Senate measure that would amend the state’s Missing Person Identification Act by requiring a coroner or medical examiner in the state to ask the FBI for help if they cannot identify a body within 72 hours.

The measure passed the Senate 43-4, including a “yes” vote from Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), whose district includes Peru. It now advances to the Illinois House of Representatives for further consideration.

Day, 25, an Illinois State University graduate student, was found dead Sept. 4 in the Illinois River near the Route 251 bridge in Peru.

Day’s family as well as Civil Rights advocates and lawmakers have called for the FBI to take over the investigation into Day’s death. A Multi-Jurisdictional Investigative Unit consisting of the La Salle County Sheriff’s Office; Peru, La Salle and Bloomington police departments, Illinois State Police, La Salle County Coroner’s Office, and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit have been involved with the case.

Day, who was reported missing Aug. 25, was identified through forensic dental identification and DNA testing and comparison. Day’s vehicle was found Aug. 26 concealed in a wooded area near the Illinois Valley YMCA in Peru. The La Salle County Coroner’s Office said Day’s cause of death was drowning with no signs of struggle, but Peru police have confirmed the investigation continues into how he may have drowned.

State Sen. Elgie R. Sims (D-Chicago) told the Senate that while Day’s case was an inspiration for the bill, other cases such as Kierra Coles, a postal worker who went missing in his district, also inspired the bill.

“My baby’s life will not be in vain,” Day’s mother Carmen Bolden-Day wrote on Facebook.

State Sen. Craig Wilcox (R-McHenry) said he believes the bill may need some modification because of the lack of resources from some authorities. He said it can be a challenge for some agencies to identify a dead body within 72 hours, especially up against a weekend, if further testing is needed, such as dental records, to do so. He said he was concerned Illinois may provide the FBI with an overflow of cases that may not be taken as seriously if several of them are just waiting for more information from testing.

Peru Police Chief Robert Pyszka said the FBI has been contacted numerous times throughout the investigation. The FBI told the multi-jurisdictional unit the federal agency will assist in all matters but will not take over the lead of the case.

Day’s family recently asked Gov. JB Pritzker to put together a joint task force to figure out what happened to Day. Day’s family has said they still have no answers, believing Day would not have drowned accidentally or taken his own life.