EFFINGHAM, Ill. (KMOX) – Justin D. DeRyke has been formally charged for killing his 7-year-old niece, Willow Long. But according to court documents, he believed he had to.
Effingham County prosecutors charged DeRyke, 22, on Wednesday with three counts of first-degree murder. His bond is set at $5 million.
The criminal complaint alleges DeRyke stabbed Willow in the chest with a knife on the family’s property Saturday night.
Probable Cause Statement
According to court documents, DeRyke told investigators he was home alone with Willow and her three-year-old brother Saturday night when the incident happened. Willow’s mother, Ciara DeRyke, went to a local bar earlier that evening, and her grandparents were at work. They are both truck drivers.
DeRyke told police he spent most of the night in his bedroom playing video games, but when he left the bathroom around 11:00 p.m. Willow tugged at his arm asking him if he would like to watch television with her. During the conversation Willow accidentally scratched his arm, angering him.
DeRyke told investigators he yelled at Willow and she ran out of the house and toward a brush pile in the family’s backyard. DeRyke said he then chased after her, but she tripped and fell into the brush pile causing a stick to impale her neck.
DeRyke told police Willow began to twitch and he believed he had to end her suffering, so he grabbed a knife out of his bedroom and slit her throat, then stabbed her in the heart approximately five times.
According to court documents, DeRyke then told police he put Willow’s body into several plastic bags and secured the bags with duct tape. Afterwards, DeRyke said he disposed Willow’s body in a rural area south of the village of Watson, Illinois.
An autopsy was conducted Tuesday. Preliminary results revealed that Willow’s throat had been slashed, a 3 to 4 inch laceration was found on her collarbone. Smaller stab wounds were also discovered near the collarbone and neck. Doctors also found defensive wounds on Willow’s hands.
Four of the hundreds of volunteers who searched for Willow found her body Monday night near the small town of Watson. DeRyke was arrested Tuesday morning.
Authorities have said Willow’s mother was feeling sick and went back to bed Sunday morning, only to wake up a short time later to find her daughter missing.
A judge has given time for DeRyke to hire an attorney.