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With A Spotlight On Gabby Petito, The Parents Of 2 Missing Black Men Call For Action

Law enforcement agencies are continuing their search in 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 those men's cases.
Octavio Jones
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Law enforcement agencies are continuing their search in 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 those men's cases.

Updated September 24, 2021 at 11:07 AM ET

There has 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 a month 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 went missing in recent weeks and 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.

Editor's note: On Thursday, authorities confirmed that a body found near Peru, Ill., belonged to Day. Read that update here.

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 the police lab does not have the chemical needed to process the samples.

She also said that the Bloomington Police Department (BPD) has been able to devote only 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, the department added.

Bolden Day has spoken out on social media and in 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-gray 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 from 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, the Buckeye Police Department 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, The Arizona Republic reported, citing police. Its air bags were deployed, and evidence suggests Robinson was wearing a seat belt at the time.

Police also said that his clothes, cellphone, wallet and keys were found at the scene and that foul play is 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 Robinson 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, the elder Robinson writes that Buckeye police are "unwilling to move beyond their theory which leads to non-action on their part," and he urges signatories to hold the department accountable for continuing to pursue answers.

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

The Buckeye police released portions of a 54-page report to members of the media on Thursday, citing the interest of transparency and cautioning that the case remains open and active.

"We are committed to finding Daniel Robinson," said Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall. "Our investigators are working tirelessly to find answers and bring closure to Daniel's loved ones."

Robinson has created a separate online fundraising page to raise money for other efforts to locate his son, such 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."

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