Uncle arraigned on 3 counts first degree murder

Published 09/11 2013 02:08PM

Updated 09/16 2013 07:49PM

Latest: 6:01 pm
EFFINGHAM COUNTY -- New details emerged in court Wednesday about the disappearance and death of 7-year-old Willow Long. Her uncle, Justin DeRyke, is accused of stabbing her outside their Watson home.

DeRyke is charged with three counts of first degree murder. Testimony at the hearing was graphic, but what he says happened is important to share. A warning; details may upset some people.

People have said they want answers, but it was an emotional day in court. No one wanted to hear these details in answer to those questions.

When the State's Attorney started reading DeRyke's statement to police about killing his niece, people in court started to cry.

He told police he was home alone with Willow and her 3-year-old brother on Saturday night. She wanted him to watch TV with her, so she tugged on his arm, but drew blood. DeRyke says he got upset and yelled at her, so Willow went running out the front door, tripped and fell into a pile of sticks.

He says one of those sticks got caught in her neck, so to end her suffering, he slit her throat and stabbed her multiple times. Then he put her body in a plastic bag, wrapped it with duct tape and dumped her somewhere south of the village in an area surrounded by overgrown trees. It's a story neighbors say they have a hard time with.

About 2,000 volunteers, plus law enforcement and trained crews, were involved in the search Sunday and Monday. A group found Willow's body Monday evening.

An autopsy shows Willow also had cuts on her hands which the coroner says were defensive wounds.

DeRyke told police his story Monday night after Willow's body had been recovered. Investigators say he didn't help with the search Sunday. Instead, he went to Effingham where he works at a restaurant. He got there about an hour early for his shift.

Now he's being held on $5 million bond.
Update: 5:00 pm
EFFINGHAM COUNTY -- As details emerge about the death of a 7-year old, the case grows more heartbreaking. The uncle of Willow Long told police he stabbed her to death.

The testimony in court Wednesday was graphic, but given the suspect's description of what happened, we thought it was important to share. However, some details may be disturbing.

22-year old Justin DeRyke was officially charged with murder Wednesday afternoon. DeRyke's father, Dale, who is also Willow's grandfather, told a story similar to what the State's Attorney presented to the judge in court.

Investigators interviewed Justin late Monday night after Willow's body was found. He told police he was home alone with Willow and her little brother Saturday night. She wanted him to watch TV with her, so she tugged on his arm. He says Willow scratched him, drawing blood, so he got upset and started yelling at her.

DeRyke says Willow ran out the front door, tripped and fell into a pile of sticks. He says a stick got stuck in her neck, so he "put her out of her misery," by slitting her throat and stabbing her five times. Then, he wrapped her body in plastic bags and dumped her south of the village.

After that, hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers came out to search for her. So many showed up Monday, some were turned away. Some of those groups actually helped find her. Those searchers found her body partially underwater Monday evening.

The coroner says Willow had cuts on her hands, indicating defensive wounds. It was an emotional day in court for people; many of whom are still struggling to come to terms with what police say happened.
Original: 2:08 pm
EFFINGHAM COUNTY -- Justin DeRyke was arraigned in court Wednesday on three counts of first degree murder in connection to the death of his 7-year old niece, Willow Long.

Autopsy results show Willow died from multiple stab wounds. The coroner also stated in his report she sustained cuts to her hands which were indicative of defensive wounds.

Her body was found wrapped in plastic in a body of water south of Watson more than a day after she was reported missing.

DeRyke is being held on $5 million bond. He is prevented from having any contact with Willow's mom or brother. His family plans to hire an attorney.

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