The body of a small child found Monday night in Effingham County, Ill., has been identified as missing Illinois girl Willow Long. After finding the remains, authorities charged Willow’s uncle, Justin D. DeRyke, with her murder.
Willow, 7, was last seen alive Sunday walking away from her home in Watson, Effingham County radio station 97.9 XFM reported. A two-day search ended Monday night when volunteers found the body of a small child that was later identified as Willow. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.
More than 400 people joined the search for Willow, WTWO reported.
DeRyke, 22, was arrested for Willow’s death, according to the Effingham County State’s Attorney’s Office.
“On Tuesday, September 10, at approximately 5:55 a.m., agents of the Illinois State Police Zone 7 Investigations placed Justin DeRyke, 22, of Watson, Ill., under arrest for the murder of Willow Long, 7, of Watson. Mr. DeRyke is the maternal uncle of the deceased child,” the attorney’s office said in a statement. “An autopsy being conducted 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 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.”
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Willow lived with her mother, uncle and grandparents. Her mother and DeRyke were the only ones home at the time the 7-year-old girl went missing, according to KTVI. She was watching a Disney movie with her 3-year-old brother Sunday morning when her mother decided to go to bed after feeling ill. When Willow’s mother woke up, her son pointed to the door to tell her that Willow had left the home.
DeRyke’s initial court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. local time, according to the state’s attorney’s office.