Willow Marie Long, age 7
September 8, 2013
Watson, Effingham County, Illinois
Child Homicide Solved with Conviction
Seven year old Willow Marie Long was last seen at home September 8, 2013 in Watson, Effingham County, Illinois. I decided to tell Willow’s story per the court file which is hard enough to read nevertheless understand how or why this happened.
September 8, 2013 about 10:46 A.M., Willow’s mother Ciara DeRyke reported her missing by contacting 911 from her residents where several others live including Willow, her three year old brother, the mother, the mother’s brother Justin, and both the mother’s grandparents. Willow’s eyeglasses were left in her bedroom which is something Willow rarely leaves behind. Initially police believed there was “no indication of foul play”. There was no Amber Alert.
Over one thousand people came to bring Willow home, including those living in the community and surrounding areas, Illinois State Police who dispatched planes and helicopters that would use infrared radar and visual spotters, Law Enforcement and Fire Departments throughout the region, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, County Emergency Management, Illinois Department of Transportation, Unit 40, search dogs, and many others.
Oddly enough, Willow’s uncle Justin DeRyke who lived in the home did not search. Instead, he got ready for work at a restaurant where he is employed, and left an hour early. Willow’s grandparent’s were over-the-road truckdrivers and had left the night before.
Willow’s mother, Ciara DeRyke, according to reports, stated that she went to take a nap the night before, and when she awoke Willow was gone. The State Attorney’s Office later confirmed that they did not believe she was a part of Willow’s disappearance or had any knowledge of it.
Later the court file would state that Ciara went to a bar / restaurant the night before sometime between 7:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M. and returned sometime after midnight, leaving Willow home with her brother and Willow’s three year old brother.
I believe it was four women who were turned away from the search as they were suspending the search. When this group left they managed to find the right path, straight to Willow. Searches found a heavy plastic wrapping which was partially submerged in a pond. They had difficulty moving it and did not know what was inside. There were bags put together, wrapped around whatever the weight was and duct taped together. They knew to contact police.
When they crime scene technicians took a closer look about 8:00 P.M., they noticed a small hole in one of the bags and recognized an elbow from a Caucasian body. As they got closer they realized this was a body of a small Caucasian child, and contacted the Coroner.
The autopsy was completed September 10, 2013 confirming the body was that of Willow Marie Long. Her throat had been slashed. Additionally there was a three to four inch laceration on her collarbone. Another, smaller stab was made to the collarbone that severed her sub-clavicle vain which was fatal. There were additional cuts on her hands confirmed to be defensive wounds. Willow was fending off her attacker.
Law enforcement interviewed her uncle Justin, the one that had to get to work rather than search for his niece, though clearly he was the last one to have been with Willow. He told the Detectives that he stayed in the bedroom playing video games with his online friends till about 10:30 P.M. He left his bedroom to go to the bathroom, where he watched pornographic videos and masturbated. He was in the bathroom for approximately thirty minutes. When he left the bedroom and headed back for his bedroom, he stated, Willow came up from behind him and tugged on his right forearm asking him to watch television with her. He said when she tugged on his elbow it caused a scratch on his elbow making him bleed. He said this made him so angry that he yelled at her. She turned around and ran toward the front door, opened it, ran toward a brush pile, tripped and fell causing a stick to impale in her neck. Willow was twitching on the ground. He said he then knew he had to end her suffering. He went back in to the residence, grabbed a knife from his bedroom, went back to Willow, sliced her throat and stabbed her in the heart about five times. Her uncle then wrapped Willow’s body in to several plastic bags, secured the bags with duct tape, put Willow’s body in to a 1997 White Pontiac Montana minivan and disposed of her body in a rural location South of Watson in a body of water.
The autopsy never mentioned a branch or other cuts that were not made from a knife. It was also never stated if there was a rape kit done, or any sexual forced activity.
Willow Marie Long was buried at the Oak Ridge Cemetery at 912 E Jefferson Avenue in Effingham, Illinois.
Justin was arrested, charged and held on a five million dollar bond. He was charged on three counts of First Degree Murder, which later with a plea agreement, he plead guilty, all the other charges were dropped but the murder charge, and he was convicted to life.
Willows mother was charged with Obstruction of Justice receiving a one hundred twenty day sentence in jail and eighteen months’ probation.
May 24, 2014 a memorial park was created in her memory in Watson, Illinois.
Rest easy Willow.