A critical clue has been uncovered in the death investigation of 25-year-old Jelani Day, whose body was discovered in the Illinois River after he was reported missing in August 2021.
Six weeks after authorities recovered Day's remains from the river, a man driving along I-55 in Bloomington stopped along the highway to secure a mattress on top of his pickup truck. The man just happened to look down and found a shattered iPhone on the ground. The phone, authorities confirmed, belonged to Jelani Day.
"I want to know who's involved. Who was his last conversation with?" Day's brother, De'Andre told NBC 5 News Chicago.
"They haven't been able to get inside the iPhone. They tell me there is software that's only available for the iPhone up to the 11. Jelani had a 12 Max Pro," Day's mother, Carmen Bolden Day told the outlet.
Law enforcement sources shared with NBC News 5 that they were able to determine that Jelani's phone was turned off at 9:21 a.m. shortly after he was seen purchasing marijuana from a dispensary in Bloomington. Surveillance footage shows his car driving away from the dispensary.
His phone was then tossed from the car along I-55 in Bloomington, officials said.
NBC 5 News obtained redacted police email correspondence via the Freedom of Information Act that mentions an "extraction Report Apple iPhone" and that "23 chats and 17 messages" were found on Jelani's cellphone, which was cross-referenced with his contact list.
Another email mentions "six phone numbers of interest" while another detective said "nothing crazy on Jelani's phone extraction."
Police recovered Jelani's car in a wooded area in Peru, Illinois where the license plate had been removed and a journal dating back to 2016 was found. Authorities said no suicide note was found in the journal, but have not commented on the contents of the journal.
Jelani's sneakers and shorts were found north of where his body was discovered and had DNA that did not belong to the 25-year-old on them that has yet to be identified.
"I think there are people withholding information –– for whatever reason –– I don't care," D'Andre said.
Jelani's mother, Carmen Day said people "didn't even come forward and say 'yeah I remember talking to him (Jelani) that day.'" The family has just been left with more questions and continues to reject the notion that Jelani died by suicide.
Jelani, the family said, had everything to live for and was on track to graduate with a master's degree in speech pathology from Illinois State University before his death. The 25-year-old had even volunteered to donate stem cells for his father who was battling leukemia and was in need of a transplant.
Jelani Day's father sadly passed away in April.
An interagency task force was formed in December 2021 to coordinate new leads in the investigation of Jelani Day's death. Anyone with tips can submit information anonymously via 1-800-225-5324. The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for "substantial information" and the family is offering $25,000 in reward money.
Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264
The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001