EFFINGHAM, Ill. (KMOX) – Justin D. DeRyke, 22, of Watson, Ill. was arrested Tuesday for the murder of Willow Long.

DeRyke is the 7-year-old’s maternal uncle, according to a news release. He was also Willow’s babysitter at the time of her disappearance.

Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler said he expects to charge DeRyke Wednesday with first-degree murder charges for Willow’s death and additional charges could be filed later. DeRyke’s first court appearance is set for one o’clock Wednesday afternoon.

A child’s body, which now has been identified as Willow’s, was found by search volunteers in Watson around 7:30 p.m. Monday. DeRyke was arrested by Illinois State Police around six o’clock a.m. Tuesday.

Dale DeRyke, the suspect’s father, says his son was playing with Willow Saturday night when the girl ran outside and fell onto a stick that went through her neck. He says Justin panicked and hid her body in a Little Wabash River bed several miles from the home in Watson.

The young girl’s mother says she saw her daughter watching television Sunday morning and Willow disappeared later that day while the mother was sleeping.

According to DeRyke’s Facebook page, he graduated from DeVry University in Maryland Heights, Missouri in May with a degree in Business Operations Management. This fall DeRyke planned to attend National American University Career Services in Burnsville, Minnesota.


Willow Long

Willow Long, 7, disappeared from her home Sunday morning.

EFFINGHAM, Ill. (KMOX) – A child’s body has been found by volunteers searching the village of Watson, Illinois in search of a missing girl.

The office of Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler said in a press release that four volunteer searchers “located the body of a small child” south of Watson around 7:30 p.m. Monday night.

“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,” the office said in a release.

Willow Long, 7, had been on a couch watching television with her younger brother on Sunday morning. When her mother returned to the room, only Willow’s brother was on the couch.

When asked where Willow had gone, her brother pointed to the door but didn’t speak.

The young girl’s mother called police immediately and police said Monday there was no indication of foul play.

In the statement Tuesday morning, the state’s attorney’s office said Illinois State Police and the Effingham County Sheriff’s Department continue to search for Willow. However, the Sheriff’s Department later announced that it was deconstructing its command center and calling off the search.

Hundreds of volunteers and first responders combed a 20-mile area around Willow’s home Sunday and Monday. An infrared camera was used Monday night.

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