A body found floating in the Illinois River was identified as Illinois State University graduate student Jelani "JJ" Day, authorities said Thursday.
Day's family had been pleading for help for weeks since he was reported missing on Aug. 25. They criticized authorities for not taking his disappearance as seriously as Gabby Petito, the aspiring blogger who died during a cross-country trip with her fiancé in a case that has mesmerized the country.
Bloomington Police Department said Day's body was found Sept. 4 floating near the south bank of the Illinois River but the LaSalle County Coroner only Thursday identified the remains after using forensic dental identification and DNA testing.
His cause of death is unknown, police said, but is under investigation. A toxicology test is also pending.
Day was last seen on Aug. 24 on campus at Illinois State University and at a marijuana dispensary in Bloomington, a small central Illinois city about 130 miles southwest of Chicago.
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Two days later, police found his car in a wooded area in Peru, about 60 miles north of Bloomington.
Police said they did an extensive search in the area with K-9 dogs, ground personnel and drones for several days. His body was found floating in the Illinois River on Sept. 4
Throughout the weeks, Day's family had been vocal, pleading for help to find the 25-year-old Black student who was studying to get his master’s degree in speech pathology.
His mother, Carmen Bolden Day, pointed out the differences between the attention her son's disappearance was getting compared to Petito, who is white.
"I want them to look for my child like they're looking for her," she said tearfully in a local TV interview. "He is not a nobody, he is somebody — and I want him to come back home. I want them to give my son the same attention, and it makes me mad because this young white girl is getting that attention and my young Black son is not."
The Petito case and the disproportionate amount of attention it's gotten across the world has raised attention to the thousands of missing persons cases across the country that remain unsolved, notably those who are people of color.
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The case renewed interest in what experts call "missing white woman syndrome," in which white women — particularly young, attractive and blonde — get the majority of the media’s attention.
After his remains were identified, Day's family said on Facebook, "There are no words to clearly communicate our devastation. ... Our hearts are broken. As of this moment, we do not know what happened to Jelani and we will not stop until we do,” the family said.
Investigators are trying to determine if Day was a victim of foul play, said John Fermon, a Bloomington police spokesman.
“Over time, that’s where we’ll get that answer,” he said of the investigation.
Illinois State University President Terri Kinzy sent a message to students Thursday extending condolences to Day's friends and family, adding that the community would be planning a celebration of his life soon.
"He joined his graduate program this summer and his impact on the campus community was immediate – he is remembered as kind, intelligent, and caring," Kinzy said in the message. "Together, we mourn his loss. His family and friends are foremost in our thoughts during this difficult time and we extend our deepest condolences."
Contributing: The Associated Press