Uncle charged with murder of missing 7-year-old Illinois girl


by KMOV.com staff


Posted on September 10, 2013 at 4:56 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 10 at 6:08 PM

(KMOV) -- A man faces charges after he allegedly killed his 7-year-old niece who had gone missing from her home in Effingham County, Ill. over the weekend. 

Police confirmed the body of Willow Long was found by four search volunteers in an area south of Watson around 7:30 p.m. Monday.

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Her uncle, 22-year-old Justin DeRyke, was arrested at 5:55 a.m. Tuesday. Authorities said he would officially be charged with first-degree murder Wednesday and it is possible more charges will be filed.

Authorities said DeRyke would make an initial court appearance that same day.

No other arrests have been made. Additional information regarding his arrest was not immediately available.

An autopsy confirmed Long’s identity, but her exact cause of death remains unknown. All indications are it was a homcide, prosecutors said.

Neighbors said officers put up crime scene tape around Long’s house near the intersection of Circle Dr. and Watson around 10:30 p.m.

Another crime scene was set up with about a dozen officers on scene south of Watson close to the Little Wabash River. That’s where neighbors said the body was found.

Click here to see photos of Willow Long and the scene of her search.

The arrest comes a day after more than 400 volunteers were in Watson, Ill., to continue their search for Long. Authorities say the girl’s mother discovered her daughter was missing after taking a 90-minute nap. When she got up, Willow’s toddler brother pointed at the door.

Within hours of her disappearance, a team of 500 volunteers and emergency responders began combing a 20-square-mile area looking for the little girl.

After more than 36 hours, Willow’s grandfather, Dale DeRyke told News 4, “I’m scared. Not knowing is the hardest part.”

The search team covered eight miles on the ground Sunday and finished the other 12 miles Monday afternoon. Several air units flew over the heavily-wooded and farm area Sunday night.

“We went down the highway, cut through a guys yard, searched his whole fenced area, searched his back yard and searched his barn,” said volunteer Bonnie Fender.

Monday night an Illinois State Police airplane with an infrared camera was flew over fields and wooded areas surrounding the small town of Watson, where Long lives with her family. Authorities are hoping the infrared camera will give them some clues to help narrow the search.

After the fly-over, trained first responders resumed the search through the night until volunteers return in the morning. Many volunteers are parents who are thinking of their own children. Jeanette Scribner told News 4, “It’s someone else’s child out here lost and I just want her to be home safe.”

During the initial search, someone reported seeing footprints close to a pond near the child’s home. However, Effingham County Sheriff’s officials said a dive team searched the pond and did not find anything.


Watson’s population is 750. It is less than 10 miles south of Effingham.  It is about 100 miles northeast of St. Louis.