Death is never something easy to handle, but when that death is a fellow student, the event appears to affect a whole community.
Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day was pronounced dead on Thursday after being missing since Aug. 25.
After weeks of posting on social media in an attempt to spread awareness, students finally received some closure as to what happened to Day.
“It is heartbreaking and gives me the chills. I feel like it's the outcome no one wanted but everyone expected based on how long it took how long to find his body,” junior elementary education major Emily Harrison said.
Junior nursing student Caroline Para said her heart dropped when she heard the news of Day’s death, and she immediately thought of his family.
“It’s really sad to think about because everyone was waiting so long and hoping for a good outcome,” Para said. “ My class had a moment of silence when we got the email from the ISU president [Kinzy], which I thought was very respectful."
President Terri Goss Kinzy released a statement following the announcement from police offering her condolences to Day’s family and friends.
Freshman theatre production and design major Katie Zaragoza explained that it shocked her to hear that something like that would happen to the ISU community.
“I was shocked; it just made me feel very sad. I had never known him personally, but just knowing that that happened to somebody on our campus and to his family, it’s very sad.” Zaragoza said. “I was kind of distraught after reading [President Kinzy’s email] because I did not expect anything like that to happen at all.”
While many students appeared grateful that Kinzy sent out the email, some students felt like the situation could have been handled better.
With social media being the main outlet by which many students heard about Day’s disappearance, sophomore Juan Escobedo explained that he felt like police could have done more work spreading the news.
“I believe the police could have handled the situation in a better manner. The only news I would see about Jelani Day would be through ISU sources. This news deserved to be widespread and I wish there could have been a better outcome,” Escobedo said. “Stuff like this should be pushed out as far as possible in order to help return people who have been reported missing.”
During a press conference on Thursday, Bloomington Police Department said that the investigation into Day’s cause of death is still ongoing. Senior mass media major Reece Koke said that she believes foul play was involved and hopes that police are able to find answers.
“The student body of ISU is hurting and I know some who knew him personally and are devastated. It’s a shame to see an intelligent young person lose their life to what I assume is a hateful act. I hope investigations are pushed forward and not given up on,” Koke said.
Another point students brought up was the recent missing persons case on Gabby Petito, and how Day’s case compares to hers.
CNN published a story on Thursday addressing the issue that many families of missing people of color are upset about the slowness in response to their cases.
The popular case of Petito, a young woman who disappeared in late August while she was on a trip with her fiancé, gained attention from the media and individuals across the county. As the nation mourns the loss of Petito, many are also saying missing persons cases of black people are not always taken as seriously as cases of missing white women, something some refer to as “Missing White Women Syndrome.”
Junior acting major Brenden Delcorio said this topic has crossed his mind too.
“I called my boyfriend, and we both got a little emotional because we talked about how people of color — especially black people — aren’t safe. Just seeing the general news how when a white person goes missing, the response is so much greater, and it wasn’t like that for Jelani which was unfair it took longer than it probably should have to locate his body,” Delcorio said. “It was a really emotional conversation.”
Delcorio went on to say he doesn't feel that he has to worry as much about his own safety given that he is a white male, but he feels a lot less safe now than when he first moved to Normal.
While students want to be able to move forward from this event, many are still scared because the cause of Day’s death is unknown.
“The biggest reason I feel uneasy is because the people who were involved are still out there and we live here. I’m one in the same as the person this happened to,” junior psychology major Jaden Johnson said. “On the bright side, it showed how our community can come together when people are in need.”