Chance Seales with "Newsy Tonight": The Gabby Petito case has captured the country's attention, and for good reason, but there are other cases, other families in grief tonight that we think as a country we should be following more closely. Some involve Black and Brown families and generally, they don't get as much attention. That includes the case of Jelani Day, a 25-year-old graduate student from Illinois. He suddenly disappeared in late August. His car, wallet, even his clothes have been found, but police haven't found Jelani. His mother, Carmen Bolden Day, was here with us last Friday.
Carmen (on September 17): "I was frustrated with the fact that Jelani hadn't been getting the coverage. Jelani has been missing for 24 days. It seems like the effort to find him has slacked down."
Chance: "And that effort is something we are staying on top of here at "Newsy Tonight" as the Day family tries to gather more information from police and also from the public.
Jelani's mother, Carmen Bolden Day, joins us again tonight. Carmen, first of all, I thought about you all weekend after we talked. The last time we spoke, you said police really weren't telling you much even though you've been asking for information. When was the last time investigators got in touch?"
Carmen: "Today was the first time I heard from the Peru (Illinois) Police Department since September 4. So that's an 18-day gap."
Chance: "Did they tell you anything?"
Carmen: "Today they contacted me because they wanted me to identify some clothing that was found along the river bank where this unidentified body was found. Today they wanted to tell me that there were two females from the ISU campus that found this clothing. And keep in mind the search that took place when the body was found, this clothing was found a mile from where this body was found all of a sudden. My frustration now is that they keep telling me that they have these witnesses that find things. There was a witness that found his wallet, but who is this witness? Why aren't they speaking up? Now it's these two girls from ISU that are doing their own investigation. Why aren't they speaking up? Why didn't they – you know, I've got all these speculations online from these different groups that have formed with Jelani's name. You got all these Facebook detectives and social media detectives. You would think that if they found something, these people would be like, 'Oh I found this in this area.' I've heard nothing until today from the Peru police who were rude to me and acted like I bothered them because I had questions. The coroner today was so disrespectful to me because I asked questions. He even told me he was angry with me and asked did I want to find out if this was my son or not."
Carmen: "This is how I have been treated. And I am not going to be quiet and sit back and accept this treatment. My son is important. You just cannot come up with clues now and think that I don't have questions behind the clues. That I don't have questions behind this evidence that you are finding – that you waited 18 days to get back in touch – that now, all of a sudden popped up 18 days. Because the last time I heard from Peru was September 4 when I sat in a room with them and they told me they found this unidentified body. Since then, I've made two calls to them and left messages. I did not get a call back. I have not gotten a follow-up to find out what they found out, if they've spoken to anybody, if they had any tips or leads. But today, after I have been on news stations and I am telling them that I need help – because I've got to do leg work to find my son. Now today there’s clothing that was found."
Chance: "Was it his?"
Carmen: "The clothing doesn't look to appear to be clothing that may have been Jelani's. But still..."
Chance: "You want answers, obviously."
Carmen: "I need answers. I need help. I need assistance. I need to be afforded the same opportunity they just gave, like I told you last week, this young White girl and her family. They found their daughter within three days. And now it's been 29 days and I have no answers about my son."
Chance: "Carmen, when we talk about Gabby Petito's case, we talked about how the FBI can get involved in cases. Things move very, very rapidly. You know, her case did cross state lines so I believe they were automatically injected into this. But, you know, to find a location, to find identification – and I believe you asked the FBI to get involved for those very reasons, to say: you can get the answers. Do you know why they haven't?"
Carmen: "I asked what does it take for the FBI to become involved in Jelani's case. I was told that it's being discussed. I don't know how long you need to have a discussion about finding a missing Black male. At this point, when I asked that question, I think it was like day 24-25. At that point, what does there need to be discussed?"
Chance: "Right. Where is the urgency? I'd imagine that at this point it's more than just finding Jelani. It's also important to know the circumstances. Because as you said, it's confusing to get these disparate pieces of information and clothing and the cell phone is there, and the car is there. And to just want to know, 'What were the circumstances?'"
Carmen: "Not only the circumstances, Chance, it's how things are being taken care of, how things are being conducted. You know, that body was found on September 4. Today is September 22 and a mile from where the body was found now there is clothing – discovered by two ISU students, quote - unquote, that were out doing their own investigation, that knew where to look. At first when they saw the clothing, this is was I was told, that they didn't think nothing of it. They got in their car and drove away. But then they looked at a picture of Jelani and said, 'Oh that's what Jelani had on,' and then they called the police. Who are these girls? Who are these people?"
Chance: "Do you feel like we are at the point to where random people, and I'm sure they have a good heart to go out there, but why are random people making the discoveries that you would think basic police work would discover?"
Carmen: "They should have discovered. Do you stop searching areas where you find an unidentified body and don't go further up until you can find other things that are still missing? So again, I don't know what to think anymore. There is all kinds of speculation in my mind about who's involved and who's doing what, and why. I don't know what to think anymore. All I know is that law enforcement – the local law enforcement is not doing their job. And if they can't do their job, get somebody in that can. Get the help you need. Put aside your ego, get me the help. Because i's not about them, it's not about me, it's about my son. I want to know where my son is."
Chance: "You actually went to the extent of hiring a private investigator. Why go that route? Is it because you lost confidence? Are there parts that you specifically need to fill in that you want their help with?"
Carmen: "Chance, I had to get a private investigator. I was told originally the first weekend when Jelani went missing, the detective told me, 'Carmen I'm getting off of work, and if I don't get anything, it's a possibility I could come in tomorrow and I can look at some information. But if not, I'll keep in touch with you.' I couldn't wait. If I'm sitting there and Jelani is out there anywhere and I have to make the effort to find him. I have got to get — who is going to help me? So I had to do what I had to do. That's like me giving up on my son. So yes, I hired a private investigator. I got a lawyer. I had to do anything I had to do to get my son. That's what my goal and that’s what my focus is. I'm going to find Jelani."
Chance: "When I hear you talk, and I think of, you are kind of like a soldier at this moment going through something that's hard and I know you don't have it in you but you have to because as you said, ‘This is my child. I’m not going to give up on my child.’ Our last conversation has been shared by millions of people. People have been spreading the word. Have you felt that outpouring?"
Carmen: "I have. I am appreciative of it as well. I'm grateful that people that don't even know me, that don't even know Jelani, they are praying and they are believing with me that I find Jelani and I bring him home alive. There are people out there that do not know me and do not know Jelani that have contributed to our GoFundMe. That have offered to do things. They are asking, 'How can I help you?' I've had people that have traveled that have no clue who me or Jelani or my family is, and they've come out to help us, and I'm grateful. I appreciate everything."
Chance: "As you try to amplify the search for Jelani, I wonder, is there anyone in particular famous or not famous who you would want to share his story even further."
Carmen: "You know what Chance, I don't care about how famous anybody is at this time. I just want in order to help me get the help I need, if you have a large platform share the information so that they can see how serious and how important and how urgent it is to find my son. I know that then I have people telling me that there are people that go missing all the time. My heart goes out to these people. I promise that it does. Because I know how they feel. But it's important for me to find my son. I’m not saying it's not important to find nobody else's child but it's important to find my son and I’m going through any extremes, I will do anything to find him."
Chance: "If people do hear Jelani's story, if they hear your words tonight Carmen and think, 'I want to be one of those people who can help in some way.' What is the best way to help?"
Carmen: "Number one: continue to pray for us and believe with us that Jelani will be found alive and healthy and safe. Also: share, keep reposting all of the information that I’m posting on Facebook and social media because I need the attention and I need the help to find my son. If they can, if they can contribute to our GoFundMe, they can do that as well. I need all the help that I can get."
Chance: "That money, I assume, goes to lawyers and investigators and things of that sort."
Carmen: "That's right."
Chance: "We want you to know that you have an open invitation to come back any night, as does the police department. You put forward some serious things here and they are also welcome because we have some questions for them. We want you know we are going to continue to follow the search for Jelani. Those of us of faith, we will continue lifting you up in prayer. And we just want you to know we're with you."
Carmen: "Thank you. I appreciate it. And I will be glad to come back with the police department. At this point, I told you before, I don't know why God chose me for this journey. I know that I always believe he prepares you for things. He made me strong like this for a reason. So, if I have to talk to anybody, if I have to speak up against anybody, I will. I don't have that fear because I’m putting that aside because that's my son, and I'm going to do anything to get my son."
Chance: "Carmen, I know you are strong, big heart, and I know what you are saying there. A mom, it doesn't matter if there is fear. It doesn't matter if people are telling you no. You are saying 'No, we'll do it.' Carmen, thank you very much. I appreciate it."
Carmen: "Thank you."