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Jelani Day's Body Is Identified A Month After The Grad Student Went Missing

The search for Jelani "J.J." Day is officially over, as the coroner's office in LaSalle County, Ill., identified a body found in a river as Day's. The Illinois State University graduate student had been missing since Aug. 24; the cause and circumstances of his death are being investigated.

Day, 25, had been living in Bloomington, where he aspired to be a doctor. Two days after his disappearance, his car was found in Peru, a small city an hour north of Bloomington. The white Chrysler 300 was spotted in "a wooded area south of the Illinois Valley YMCA," police said. Inside the car were the clothes Day had been wearing when he was last seen.

Nine days after Day's car was found, authorities discovered his body in the Illinois River, after a search that was triggered by a tip, member station WGLT reports.

The coroner used dental records and DNA analysis to identify his body, Bloomington Police said. Day's relatives had previously submitted DNA samples to aid the search.

"There are no words to clearly communicate our devastation," Day's family said in a statement. "Our hearts are broken."

Day's case recently gained new prominence as his mother, Carmen Bolden Day, called for authorities to show the same attention and urgency in her son's case as they have for Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old white woman who went missing and was later found dead.

Bloomington Police have said Day went missing "in unexplained suspicious circumstances." As the agency confirmed the recovery of the man's body, it said toxicology testing will be undertaken in an attempt to learn how Day died. The last place Day was seen, police said, was at a store in the Beyond / Hello cannabis dispensary chain.

Identification of Day's body comes after weeks of uncertainty and dread, as his family and friends waited to hear from the coroner — who was in turn waiting for results from the state police crime lab.

"I couldn't put myself in their shoes. It was just tough," said Bloomington Police public information officer John Fermon, according to WGLT. "I'd want to know the answers, good or bad, to start the grieving process, so I think it's good in that aspect."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.