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Community ready to dedicate Willow Park

WATSON -- A lot of work has gone into getting Willow's Park ready in Effingham County. 7-year old Willow Long was murdered by her uncle last fall. The dedication for the park is this weekend.
WATSON -- A lot of work has gone into getting Willow's Park ready in Effingham County. 7-year old Willow Long was murdered by her uncle last fall. The dedication for the park is this weekend. WCIA-3's Anna Carerra finds out it's part of this year's homecoming celebration.

Organizers are expecting thousands of people to come back to Watson for this weekend's events. One of those is honoring a little girl who will never come home.

The school year got off to a rough start for kids in Watson. Students found out one of their classmates, Willow Long, had been murdered.

"We're going to keep her memory alive by the park and all the children playing and have happy days instead of any more sad," said DeAnna McWilliams, who is the park's chairperson. 

That's why organizers say this weekend's dedication is coming at the perfect time.

"That way we could catch the end of the school and Willow's classmates and friends and be able to help them heal and maybe close out their school year," said McWilliams.  

Her classmates had a hand in getting it ready. Prints from South Side Grade School students are decorations on the trash cans.

"I know this will mean a lot to Willow's family," said family friend Tina Sapp. "Being able to put this kind of closure on it is going to mean a lot."

The purple playground at the park was already here, in Willow's favorite color. But everything else is brand new, from the benches to the basketball court, to the sign with Willow's name. Putting it all together was a true community effort.

"Everybody in the evening, after their full-time jobs came down here and tried to get it done for this weekend," said Sapp. 

The shiny new equipment won't replace the little girl they lost. But, people here say it can help them heal and stay strong together.

The homecoming celebration started at the Watson Civic Center at 5 pm on Friday. The Willow Park dedication will be Saturday at 5:30 pm.

Friends of Willow's family say they haven't been involved with the planning of the park and won't be at the dedication, but they may come later when there aren't as many people around.

People in the community are still finding ways to remember Willow. After her body was discovered, a memorial started just south of town. It's grown a lot since then with dozens of stuffed animals; most of which are purple, Willow's favorite color. It's also been decorated for the holidays with Easter eggs and lights. An engraved rock with Willow's picture is part of the memorial now as well.
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