Willow Long: Missing Illinois Girl, 7, Found Dead, Uncle Charged With Murder (UPDATE)


Willow Long.
  • Willow Long.

Update: Officials have just confirmed that the body of Willow Long, the missing seven-year-old Watson, Illinois girl, has been identified. Our original coverage of the search from earlier today is below.

Police have arrested Justin DeRyke, Long's 22-year-old uncle, and are going to charge him with first-degree murder in the death of the young girl. He may face more charges as well.

The cause of death remains unknown at this time and an autopsy is ongoing this afternoon, the Effingham County State's Attorney says in a press release.

Police say that DeRyke, who also lives in Watson, was taken into custody just before 6 a.m. today. He is the maternal uncle of the deceased child.

All indications are that the death was a homicide, police note.

The defendant is appearing in court [corrected] tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the Effingham County Government Center.

Long's mother had reported to police that she went to take a nap and left her daughter with her three-year-old brother on Sunday. The two were watching television.

When she returned, the girl was gone.

Here is DeRyke's mugshot:

Justin DeRyke.
  • Justin DeRyke.

Here's video from KMOV (Channel 4)'s latest coverage, followed by the full Effingham County State's Attorney press release and our original report from this morning.

Press release:

On Tuesday, September 10, 2013, at approximately 5:55 a.m., agents of Illinois State Police Zone 7 investigations placed Justin D. DeRyke, 22, of Watson, Illinois, under arrest for the murder of Willow Long, 7, of Watson. Mr. DeRyke is the maternal uncle of the deceased child.

An autopsy being conducted at this hour by Dr. John A. Heidingsfelder, forensic pathologist, has confirmed the identity of the body of a child found Monday evening by volunteer searchers south of Watson to be that of Willow Long. All indications are that the death is a homicide. The autopsy is ongoing and is being facilitated at St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital in Effingham.

The Effingham County Sheriff's Department and the Illinois State Police continue to investigate the matter.

The Effingham County State's Attorney's office will file First Degree Murder charges against the defendant on Wednesday afternoon in Effingham County Circuit Court, pending the possibility of additional charges to be filed later.

Original post, 9:53 a.m.: The search for Willow Long, a missing seven-year-old girl, has taken a dark turn: Officials say that they have located the body of a child in Effingham County, Illinois, where authorities and volunteers have been searching for the vanished girl since Sunday.

At this time authorities have not identified the body. An autopsy will be conducted today.

This news comes a day after police reported the bizarre circumstances of Long's disappearance: According to cops, the girl had been on the couch watching television with her three-year-old brother when their mother went to take a nap. When she awoke and returned to the room, police say, the three-year-old was still there -- but his sister was gone.

See also: Macala Shelton: Missing Missouri Girl Stabbed To Death, Found In Abandoned Farm, Cops Say

The mother then apparently asked the boy where Willow had gone, at which point he pointed to the door, but he remained silent.

Police say she immediately alerted the authorities, who have said that there was no indication of foul play.

Volunteers last night located the body of a "small child" south of the small town of Watson, Illinois, police say.

Here's the full statement sent out this morning from the office of Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler:

On Monday, September 9, 2013, at approximately 7:30 p.m., four volunteer searchers located the body of a small child in an area south of the village of Watson in Effingham County.

No positive identification of the body has been made at this time. An autopsy to determine the child's identity and cause of death is scheduled for later this morning.

A joint investigation of the Illinois State Police and the Effingham County Sheriff's Department continues into the weekend disappearance of Willow Long, 7, of Watson.

We'll update when there's more information.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.


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