Justin DeRyke, uncle of Willow Long, arrested for her death

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Update: Justin DeRyke to be charged with 1st degree murder for the death of Willow Long.  He is being held on $5 million bond.  He will be hiring his own defense attorney.

EFFINGHAM, IL (KTVI) -The seven year old girl reported having wandered away from her home Sunday has been found dead, and her uncle is charged with murder.  Willow Long’s body was found near a river bed about two miles from her home.  The girl’s grandfather, Dale DeRyke, is also the father of the alleged killer, and he describes the act as one of panic after an accident. 

Dale DeRyke says Justin was babysitting the little girl on Saturday night.  He says the two were playing, chasing one another around the house, when Willow ran outside.  He says there is a pile of sticks he keeps in the back and the girl fell into them.

“A stick went through her and through her head,” he said Tuesday night.  “She was laying there twitching and dying.  My son is 22 years old.  He’s not….he’s never had experiences like this.  He was scared.  He hid her body.”

Now he says his son has “nothingbut remorse,” and will have to pay for what he’s done.

There are still unanswered questions surrounding his story.  Police say the mother told them she saw Willow Sunday morning watching television.  That clearly isn’t possible if the child was already dead.

Authorities would not comment on DeRyke’s statement or any other information outside of a written statement issued by the Effingham County State’s Attorney’s office.

“All indications are that the death is a homicide,” the short release from Bryan Kibler reported.  “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.”

A news conference is expected after DeRyke appears before a judge Wednesday at 1pm in Effingham.

Tearful friends and neighbors marched down the quiet Watson, Illinois street adjacent to the little girl’s home Tuesday afternoon, carrying signs, stuffed animals, and balloons in memory of her.  They were placed outside the DeRyke home, which only a couple of hours earlier was still a crime scene.

A tearful ten year old girl, Ashlee Erikson, spoke of her playmate through tears.

“She was a nice kind bright little girl and she was my best friend.  She was gone too soon!” she said.

Her mother was also overcome with emotion.

“It’s beyond horrible,” Dawn Erikson said.  “We moved away from the big city to get away from this.  And to have it happen here is ridiculous.  And to find out it was her own family?  These are gifts from God.”

Officials from the Effingham school district, where Willow was a second grader, say counselors are already in all buildings, including the South Side School, which she attended.   Superintendent Mark Doan says they  are trying to provide a sense of normalcy for the kids trying to cope with the loss.

Attached is the release the school system sent out, along with copies of a letter sent home to parents that includes tips on helping young children cope with a death.
Missing 7-year-old Willow Long's home surrounded by crime scene tape