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Officials: "One of the Most Heartbreaking Events in This County's History"

The Illinois man accused murdering his 7-year-old niece Willow Long went before a judge on Wednesday, and probable cause was found for the arrest of 22-year-old Justin DeRyke. DeRyke is facing three counts of first degree murder. He's held at the Effingham County Jail on $5 million bond.
The Illinois man accused murdering his 7-year-old niece Willow Long went before a judge on Wednesday, and probable cause was found for the arrest of Justin DeRyke, 22.

A little girl's desire to spend time with her uncle turned deadly Saturday night.

"We started out as a search for Willow, as as time went on, we went from a search to a homicide," said Effingham County Sheriff John Monett.

In court on Wednesday, police revealed what Justin DeRyke admitted.

The 22-year-old, who was babysitting Willow at the time, told officers she grabbed his arm and scratched him.

He started yelling at her and she ran outside. That's when he says she fell on a nearby brush pile, and a stick stabbed her in the neck. DeRyke told officials that "he had to end Willow's suffering," so he slashed her throat and stabbed her five times in the chest. He then wrapped her body in plastic, and dumped her into nearby river.

"There are still a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up, they're still interviewing more individuals, they are still collecting more evidence," said Bryan Kibler, the Effingham County State's Attorney. 

Willow's mother reported her missing Sunday morning - and DeRyke went to work - while thousands poured into the town of Watson.

There were so many volunteers that police had to turn them away. In the end, it was some of those people who decided to start looking on their own, and made the gruesome discovery.

"They got out of their car to look, because they cared, they wanted to be a part of it," said Kibler.

Sheriff Monett adds: "For all of those that sacrifice in the heat and was willing to go back out time and time again."

Just hours after Willow's body was found, her uncle was arrested and charged with first degree murder.

An autopsy showed there were cuts on Willow's hands, consistent with defensive wounds.

"This is a very sad day for each and everyone of us," said Kibler.  "Maybe one of the most heartbreaking events to ever happen in this county's history."   

And Sheriff Monett urges: "Remember the family in our prayers and in our thoughts."

DeRyke is facing three counts of first degree murder.

He's held at the Effingham County Jail on $5 million bond.

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