Grand jury indicts DeRyke; Willow's memory honored

By Anna Carrera

Published 09/18 2013 04:37PM

Updated 09/18 2013 06:21PM

EFFINGHAM COUNTY -- A grand jury indicted a Watson man on three counts of murder. 22-year old Justin DeRyke is accused of brutally murdering his 7-year old niece, Willow Long. The panel decided there's enough probable cause to charge him in the crime.

He was arrested last week after authorities found Willow's body partially underwater in a wooded area south of town. Her mom originally reported her missing last Sunday.

Search crews covered 20-square miles in the two days spent looking for her. After crews found her body, DeRyke told police he killed her to put her out of her misery after she fell on a pile of sticks and got one lodged in her neck.

The court provided a public defender to represent DeRyke. He's being held on $5 million bond.

He'll be back in court Thursday to enter a plea. Multiple law enforcement agencies continue to investigate Willow's disappearance and death.

Meanwhile, friends of Willow are continuing to raise money in her memory. A Willow Long Memorial Fund has been established at both Crossroads Bank locations in Effingham.

All the money raised is going back into the community to pay for the resources and manpower used in the search for the 7-year old. The fund currently has $150.

Others are remembering the little girl by planting a tree. A weeping willow will be put just outside the Watson Civic Center.

A purple ribbon and bow are tied around the tree. Purple is Willow's favorite color. There are also stuffed animals, flowers and candles around the trunk of the tree in her memory.

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