Uncle faces first-degree murder charges in death

Published 09/08 2013 07:22PM

Updated 09/11 2013 06:09PM

Latest: 8:06 pm, 9/10/13, Tuesday
WATSON -- A 7-year old Effingham County girl is dead, and family members say it was at the hands of her own uncle. Willow Long disappeared Sunday, and after days of searching, her body was found near Watson Monday night.

Justin's father and Willow's grandfather, Dale DeRyke, says Willow tripped and fell into a pile of sticks in her yard. He says a stick was lodged in Willow's head. He says Justin was scared, wasn't thinking, and put her out of her misery.

DeRyke wouldn't say how his son did it, but said Justin plans to plead guilty to first-degree murder. Illinois State Police arrested him Tuesday morning.

DeRyke says he stands by his son and believes his story.

"My granddaughter's dead. I love my granddaughter more than I love me. I wish it was me. I wish it was me instead of my boy. There's nothing I can do about it. I can pray and hope that I can keep going through life and maybe something good will come."

DeRyke is expected to be in court Wednesday. Police say they will release more information and results of an autopsy may provide more information. Investigators did say all indications show this was a homicide.
Latest: 5:45 pm, 9/10/13, Tuesday
WATSON -- A 7-year old girl's uncle has been arrested and will be charged with murder. But, the girl's grandfather says it was all an accident.

Willow Long's mom reported her missing Sunday morning. Search crews found her body in Effingham County Monday night, somewhere south of Watson.

22-year old Justin DeRyke faces first degree murder charges. Investigators say there could be more charges in the works.

No one thought it would end like this. This time Monday, hundreds of volunteers were outside all over Effingham County looking for Willow; all hoping they would find her alive and safe.

But, Tuesday morning, they found it's not how the story would end. Investigators taped off the area around Willow's home Tuesday morning.

She lived there with her mom, uncle, grandparents and 3-year old brother. Police arrested DeRyke Tuesday morning.

His father, who is Willow's grandfather, says Willow was playing outside with her uncle Sunday when she fell on a pile of sticks. He goes on to say one stick got lodged in Willow's head, so DeRyke put her out of her misery and hid the body. But, he wouldn't say exactly how.

Some of Willow's young friends say this is all just too much to take in. Neighbors put together a memorial for Willow and left it at her home. Others put up signs around town.

There will be a special prayer service Tuesday at 7 pm at the Watson United Methodist Church.

DeRyke is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

Willow disappeared between 8 - 11 am, Sunday. Hundreds of volunteers searched all day and night and into Monday.

A group of volunteers found her body Monday night about 7:30 pm. Police called off the search Tuesday morning.

Willow's uncle, Justin DeRyke, was booked on first degree murder charges before 6:00 am Tuesday.
Latest: 5:07 pm, 9/10/13, Tuesday
WATSON -- New information is being released about the death of 7-year old Willow Long. She was found dead about 7:30 pm Monday. It was a day and-a-half after her mother reported her missing.

Her uncle, 22-year old Justin DeRyke, was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with her murder. Investigators came to the home on Circle Drive first thing Tuesday morning.

Willow lived her with her mom, uncle, grandparents and 3-year old brother. Her mom told police she went to take a nap on Sunday, while Willow was watching a movie with her brother. When she woke up, Willow was gone.

After that, hundreds of volunteers searched around Effingham County for her. Neighbors say they can't believe everything that's happened here in the past few days.

Authorities say Willow's body was found by volunteer searchers somewhere southwest of Watson. Crime scene investigators were seen two miles south of the village on Highway 37. That's just off I-57, but police have not confirmed that's where her body was discovered.

They also haven't released what condition Willow's body was in when it was discovered, only stating all indications are her death was a homicide.

Some neighbors and friends have created a little memorial for her.
Latest: 1:13 pm, 9/10/13, Tuesday
EFFINGHAM -- An autopsy has determined the identity of the child's body found by searchers Monday evening is that of missing 7-year old Willow Long. While the cause of death has not been released, it has been determined to be a homicide.

Police arrested 22-year old Justin DeRyke, of Watson, for the murder of Willow Long about 5:55 am Tuesday. DeRyke is the maternal uncle of Willow.

The Effingham County State's Attorney will file first degree murder charges against DeRyke Wednesday afternoon during his first court appearance. Additional charges could be filed at a later date.

Latest: 11:20 am, 9/10/13, Tuesday
WATSON -- Police confirm the uncle of 7-year old Willow Long is in custody facing a first degree murder charge. Justin DeRyke, 22, was arrested about 5:55 am Tuesday.

The body of a child was found by volunteer searchers about 7:30 pm Monday. It's not known how far the location was from where Willow disappeared Sunday.

Authorities have not confirmed the body is that of the missing girl. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday

We'll update this information as more information becomes available.

Latest: 7:00 am, 9/10/13, Tuesday
WATSON -- The search for Willow Long has been suspended after volunteer searchers discovered a child's body at 7:30 pm Monday night. It was found in an area where Willow went missing Sunday afternoon.

Police have not yet identified the body. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Latest: 9:02 pm, 9/9/13, Monday
WATSON -- The search continues for Willow Long in rural Effingham County. Emergency crews are pulling an all-nighter to find the 7-year old.

Volunteers from all over the southern part of the state have come to help find Willow, but emergency crews are ready to continue the search alone. Civilian crews were told to stop searching at 8 pm.

The Effingham County Sheriff says they shouldn't come back in the morning.  Not because they don't want the extra help, but because of the heat. Monday, three people were sent to the hospital for heat-related injuries and seven others were treated by EMS.

Sheriff John Monnet says, "My fear is that we don't want to lose anybody during this hot weather. The emergency service people are continuously trained to combat this type of weather and none of them were ill or sick and continued to search."

The sheriff says if he decides he wants volunteers to come back, he'll let everyone know. So far, crews have covered a 20-square mile radius by foot.

Monday night, they hope to cover more in the air. State police will be flying an infrared plane over the area hoping to pick up some body heat.
Latest: 6:02 pm, 9/9/13, Monday
WATSON -- Hundreds of volunteers are searching rural Effingham County for a missing 7-year old girl. Willow Long vanished Sunday morning. Investigators say she walked away from her home. No one has seen or heard from her since.

Crews have already been out here a day and a half. They say they don't want to stop until they find Willow, but organizers say the volunteer search will stop at 8 pm, like it did Sunday.

Those search crews had to take a short break between 2 - 5 pm which is the hottest part of the day. One person had to be taken to the hospital for a heat-related issue. Since then, volunteers have headed back out on horses, ATV's and on foot.

There were even more volunteers Monday than Sunday. About 600 turned out in Monday's heat. They've covered about 18-square miles so far; some of it two or three times.

Some of the area they searched is farmland or wooded areas with hills and water. The farmland is covered with corn and soybeans which is making it a little tougher to search.

Investigators say they don't suspect foul play at this point, but they're just looking for any clue about where Willow might be. The trained crews will stay out here through the night, using infrared cameras to see what they can find. Then they'll decide on a plan of action for Tuesday.

Willow has been missing more than 30-hours. She was last seen between 8 - 11 am Sunday. Investigators say she left while her mom was taking a nap. The search started at her home.

After a few hours, volunteers broadened the search to an area of 18-square miles. Investigators and volunteers have also been knocking on doors around town. They're asking neighbors if they've heard or seen anything.

Officials say they're holding out hope someone has seen something which could help them in their search. Authorities say they're also sending people to look through yards in the area, so if you see someone looking around your home, don't be worried. They are asking residents to check their properties too.

Dozens of agencies are involved in the search. In addition to the Effingham County Sheriff's Office and the Watson Fire Protection District, crews from the Champaign County EMA are involved in the search.

The Effingham County Public Transit District also provided crews. Effingham, Teutopolis and Altamont school districts sent buses to help transport searchers.

The FBI has also been involved. In addition to officer and rescue crews, hundreds of community members are helping anyway they can. Some are providing food and water to those searching. Others are offering their horses to help in the search.

Many volunteers have chosen not to sleep, saying they won't rest until Willow is safe.
Update: 4:45 pm, 9/9/13, Monday
WATSON -- Search crews and volunteers continue combing miles of rural Effingham County looking for any trace of a 7-year old girl. Willow Long's mom first noticed she was missing Sunday morning. About 30-hours have passed since Willow was reported missing.

Investigators say Willow went outside while her mom took a nap. They live just south of Effingham. Investigators say they still don't have a lot to go on.

The search started at her home in town as officials went door-to-door. The search then expanded to about 18-square miles covering the entire village plus a lot more rural area.

Some of it has been checked two or three times. The terrain includes farmland, steep hills and shallow creeks, but still investigators don't have any solid leads. At this point, they say they haven't seen any signs of foul play.

They're asking neighbors to check trail cameras or any surveillance video they may have and check property for any sign of her; a toy, piece of clothing or anything. Officials say Willow is a 2nd grader, very outgoing and adventurous girl, but she's never wandered away from home before.

They're going to keep looking, so they ask everyone to keep an eye out as well. People in the area are working tirelessly in the search.

Aside from officers and emergency crews, more than 400-volunteers are helping anyway they can. Some are offering food and water to everyone involved. Others are bringing in resources like horses to comb the area.

Volunteers say, when someone is in need, the community pulls together. Many of those volunteers say they will not rest until they find Willow.
Original: 7:22 pm, 9/8/13, Sunday
EFFINGHAM COUNTY -- Hundreds of people are involved in a search for girl who disappeared. It's happening around Watson, just south of Effingham.

The sheriff's department says 7-year old Willow Long went missing somewhere between 8:00 am - 10:49 am Sunday. They think she walked away from her family's home.

More than 400 volunteers plus the sheriff's department, Watson Fire Department, and Illinois State Police have been searching the area all day. A helicopter was called in to help.

Investigators say there are no signs of foul play. Search crews will be on ATV's with lights throughout the night. K-9 units have been called in as well.

Long is described as 3’10’’, about 46 lbs, with shoulder-length red hair. She was last seen wearing a purple night gown.

Anyone with information is asked to call police at (217) 342 - 2102. A base has been set up at the Watson Fire Department.

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