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Autopsy findings misrepresented in grad student Jelani Day’s death

October 15, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Coroner’s report says missing graduate student Jelani Day was found with his organs missing, including his teeth, eyeballs and spleen. His jawbone was “sawed out.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The LaSalle County coroner who first examined Jelani Day’s recovered body said it was severely decomposed, but no body parts were missing. The coroner said the jaw was removed to assist with identification and that all parts of the body were returned to the family.

THE FACTS: The body of Day, who attended Illinois State University, was found in the Illinois River on Sept. 4 and positively identified on Sept. 23. Before the discovery of the body, Day had been last seen at the Illinois State campus on Aug. 24, according to reporting by The Associated Press.

Confusion around the initial autopsy report, a second pathologist’s review of Day’s body and details in a Chicago Sun-Times story led to false posts on social media stating that Day’s body parts were missing.

“CORONER REPORTS JELANI DAY’S ORGANS WERE MISSING WHEN HE WAS FOUND,” said one post published to Instagram on Oct. 11. The post’s caption went on to say the report stated “the young man’s organs and eyeballs were missing when he was found last month.”

The Sun-Times article cited comments from Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, and the family’s lawyer, Hallie Bezner, describing the state of the body.

“The family’s private forensic pathologist could find no brain,” the article quoted them as saying. “No organs. Neither liver. Nor spleen.”

It went on to say: “Bezner said the LaSalle County coroner had explained that, according to their pathology report, the organs were “completely liquefied.”

The underlying issue was deterioration that occurred while the body was in the water for several days, the county coroner said.

Bolden Day released a statement a few days after the Sun-Times article ran to clarify details.

NO WHERE in this article did it say the ‘eyes’ or the ‘organs’ were REMOVED!” she said. “This article is ACCURATE, however as people do, they take what they want out of a conversation, in this case, a article and say or quote things incorrectly.”

“The information that he has written he did in fact get from me based on MY UNDERSTANDING of the two differing preliminary autopsy reports done by two differing pathologists,” Bolden Day added.

LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch verified with the AP that Day’s organs were not missing.

“I can definitively say that when we recovered his body on September 4 from the river and did a subsequent autopsy on the 5th that there were no organs missing from Jelani Day’s body,” Ploch said. “It was in 77 degree river water for many days.”

“The body just has a natural decomposition that’s going to happen to the liver, tissue and body organs,” Ploch added.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.