91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

With a spotlight on Gabby Petito, the parents of 2 missing Black men call for action

Law enforcement agencies are continuing their search in the a Sarasota County, Fla., nature reserve for Brian Laundrie, a person of interest in the death of Gabby Petito. The families of Jelani Day and Daniel Robinson, who have been missing for weeks and months, respectively, are calling for more attention to be brought to their cases.
Octavio Jones
Getty Images
Law enforcement agencies are continuing their search in the a Sarasota County, Fla., nature reserve for Brian Laundrie, a person of interest in the death of Gabby Petito. The families of Jelani Day and Daniel Robinson, who have been missing for weeks and months, respectively, are calling for more attention to be brought to their cases.

There's been national focus over the last few days on the unfolding story of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old white woman whose death was ruled a homicide on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after she was last seen on a cross-country road trip with her now-missing boyfriend.

Media coverage of the case is intense and, as some people have pointed out, disproportionate to the kind of attention typically given to missing Indigenous women and people of color.

The families of two Black men who have gone missing in recent months — Jelani Day and Daniel Robinson — are drawing attention to this disparity, and pleading for the public's help in finding answers. Here are their stories.

Aspiring doctor Jelani Day was last seen in Illinois in August

Day, a 25-year-old Illinois State University graduate student, was reported missing by his family and a faculty member on Aug. 25, according to the Bloomington Police Department.

His family could not reach him after they spoke on the evening of Aug. 23, and he was last seen on surveillance video entering a retail store in Bloomington the morning of Aug. 24.

Police located Day's car in a wooded area near the Illinois Valley YMCA in Peru on Aug. 26, with the clothing he was last seen wearing left inside.

Just over a week later, on Sept. 4, a team of police, fire and rescue officials found "an unidentified body just off the south bank of the Illinois River" while conducting an organized search of the LaSalle-Peru area.

Bloomington police said the following day that the LaSalle County Coroner's Office had begun an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the person's death, and that identification could take several days or weeks.

"We ask that people refrain from speculation as the investigation remains ongoing and could take considerable time," they added.

Carmen Bolden Day told member station WGLT that the discovery of the body has seemingly brought her son's case to a standstill. She said state police collected DNA samples from her family members on Sept. 6, but was told that their lab does not have the chemical needed to process them.

She also said that the Bloomington Police Department has only been able to devote one detective to the case, asking, "Once he stops, does that mean we stop looking for my son?"

BPD Officer John Fermon told the station that while one detective is assigned to lead the case, other staff members are directed to help with the investigation as necessary.

In an update on Monday, BPD said detectives are still "actively investigating the case" and sorting through tips. Their efforts include collecting and analyzing digital and physical evidence, locating and interviewing witnesses and searching for other leads, it added.

Bolden Day has spoken out on social media and interviews about the differences between her son's case and that of Petito, noting at one point that Petito's face was "plastered everywhere" and the FBI got involved after she had been missing for two days, but Day didn't get that same attention after being missing for longer.

As she told WGLT, she is not arguing that Petito deserves less but that Day deserves more.

"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."

Arizona geologist Daniel Robinson went missing in the desert in June

Robinson, 24, was last seen leaving a job site in Buckeye, Ariz., on June 23, and was reported missing later that day.

He was driving his 2017 blue/grey Jeep Renegade, and is believed to have been heading west into desert terrain, his father wrote on an online fundraising page.

David Robinson II wrote that his son, who moved to Phoenix for a job as a field geologist after graduating college in 2019, oversees many sites in remote desert areas and often travels long distances for work.

"Daniel has an innate passion for adventure and is known to travel inopportune moments," David Robinson II wrote. "However, he always communicates with friends and family about his travel plans."

A landowner found Robinson's Jeep in a ravine on July 19, Buckeye police said, adding that it had "significant damage" and had not been clearly visible to search crews because of the rough terrain.

The vehicle appeared to have rolled and landed on its side, AZ Central reported, citing police. Its airbags were deployed, and evidence suggests Robinson was wearing a seatbelt at the time.

Police also said his clothes, cellphone, wallet and keys were found at the scene, and that foul play was not suspected given the state of the car.

On July 31, police said, a human skull was located in an area south of where the Jeep had been recovered.

Officials later determined the remains did not belong to Daniel, and said in their Sept. 16 update that no additional human remains — only animal bones — have been found since.

"Since his disappearance, the Buckeye Police Department has worked with outside agencies to search more than 70 square miles in an effort to locate Daniel," police said. "Investigators have utilized UTVs, cadaver dogs, and air support including a drone and a helicopter."

Robinson's father, however, has publicly alleged that he is doing more to find his son than law enforcement is.

In an online petition, Robinson writes that Buckeye police are "unwilling to move beyond their theory which leads to non-action on their part," and urges signatories to hold the department accountable for continuing to pursue answers.

He also calls for the missing person investigation to be changed to that of a criminal investigation, which he says would allow police to seek warrants based on any evidence obtained.

Robinson has created a separate online fundraising page to raise money for other efforts to locate his son, like printing flyers, hiring a private investigator, enlisting a desert search and rescue team and covering the cost of his Arizona hotel stay.

Robinson, who lives in South Carolina, wrote that he intends to stay in the area "until we have answers and bring Daniel home safely."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.