The uncle of 7-year-old Willow Long is in the Effingham County Jail this afternoon, and is expected to be formally charged at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Effingham County Court with first-degree murder. The Effingham County State’s Attorney’s office says additional charges could be pending.
We have confirmed that 22-year-old Justin Dale Deryke, the brother of the missing girl’s mother, is in custody, hours after four volunteers searching for missing Willow found the body of 7-year-old Willow Long just south of the village of Watson.
According to the Effingham Sheriff’s Department, the body was found at approximately 7:30 Monday night. A positive identification was not made on the body until an after an autopsy that was conducted at 11 a.m. Tuesday. The autopsy also indicated the cause of Willow’s death to be homicide.
Hundreds of volunteers had been searching for Willow Long since she was first reported missing Sunday morning. The search has now been suspended and most of the search crews sent home, according to the sheriff’s department.
The home on Circle Drive in Watson where Willow lived has been surrounded by crime scene tape since late Monday night, shortly after the discovery of the body.
Another crime scene has been taped off close to the Little Wabash River, which is believed to be the location where the body was found.
Willow, her 3-year-old brother and her mother Ciara lived in the home with her mother’s brother Justin and her mother’s parents.
Despite triple digit heat, volunteers from all over the region, including many from our listening area, descended on Watson yesterday and Sunday, to help in the search for the tiny little red haired girl.