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Willow Long's body identified, Justin DeRyke arrested for murder

6:14 AM, Sep 11, 2013   |    comments
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WATSON, Ill. (KSDK) - The 22-year-old uncle of a 7-year-old girl who went missing over the weekend has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.

According to Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler, 22-year-old Justin D. DeRyke was arrested at 5:50 a.m. Tuesday. DeRyke is 7-year-old Willow Long's maternal uncle.

Willow disappeared Sunday morning. Her mother said she laid down for approximately 90 minutes because she had a headache. When she woke up, Willow was gone.

PHOTOS: Body of child found in Effingham Co.

Around 7:30 p.m. Monday a child's body was found by four volunteers searching for Willow. On Tuesday, the body was identified as Willow's.

An autopsy is underway at St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital in Effingham. Kibler says all indications are that the death is a homicide, though a specific cause of death has not been released.

Illinois State Police are in charge of the investigation. Crime scene tape has been up around Willow's home since 6 a.m. Tuesday.

The Effingham County State's Attorney's Office will file first-degree murder charges against DeRyke Wednesday afternoon. Additional charges may be filed at a later date.

DeRyke's father, Dale DeRyke tells NewsChannel five that his son confessed to police while being questioned. He told police that he was watching Willow and her younger brother Saturday night, while their mother was out for the night.

DeRyke says his son told police that Willow woke up and they started playing Saturday night, when she ran outside and tripped near a brushpile in the yard.

"She ran, she tripped a stick went right through her neck and into her head," says Dale DeRyke. "He's thinking oh my God, I killed her or she just died they are going to blame me, he's not thinking correctly."

He says his son is isolated from the world. He was scared and not thinking at the time.

"I believe he put her out of her misery, and that's all I can say for sure," says DeRyke.

The news of Willow's death hit home for the town of Watson even to it's youngest population.

"She was the nicest kind bright little girl, and she was my best friend," says Willow's friend AshLee Erickson.

DeRyke says he loves his son and will always love him, but he messed up and now it's his time to serve.

DeRyke is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday afternoon.


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