UPDATE: Body Found South of Watson Identified as Missing Willow Long, Uncle Charged in her Death


Published on September 8 2013 12:45 pm
Written by Wayne Moran

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A photo gallery images from the search for Willow is located here.  


WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Justin Deryke was charged with the murder of Willow Long in his initial appearance in court. Prosecutors shared details of what DeRyke claimed happened to his neice.

TUESDAY UPDATE: We have confirmed that Willow Long's Uncle, Justin D. DeRyke (Dee-Rike), is in custody in the Effingham County Jail, being held on a count of First Degree Murder in 7-year old Willow's death. DeRyke's initial court appearance will be at 1pm Wednesday in Effingham County Circuit Court. Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler said a press conference will follow the hearing. When asked about whether there are additional suspects in Long's death, Kibler said "no comment".

Original story

After a massive two-day search for missing 7-year old Willow Long, four volunteer searchers found the body of a small child south of Watson Monday evening at about 7:30pm Monday evening. After an autopsy Tuesday morning, it was confirmed that the body is that of Willow Long. 

ISP investigators combed the scene, in an area that's located south of a small rest area on Illinois Route 37.

Illinois State Police cordoned off the area around Long's residence in Watson Tuesday morning.

It was reported that Willow had walked away from her home on Circle Drive in Watson Sunday morning. Willow's mother, Cierra DeRyke, told police that she wasn't feeling well, and was going to go back to bed at about 8:45am. When she went to lay down, she said Willow and her 3-year old brother were in the living room watching TV. She told police that when she woke later, Willow was gone. DeRyke said she asked her son where Willow was, and he pointed at the door, indicating she had left. DeRyke says she then called police to report her missing.

Since then, a massive search by hundreds of volunteers from around the region was implemented from a command post at the Watson Fire Station. It was reported that more than 800 volunteers were involved in Monday's search efforts that were staged from the Watson Civic Center. 


Previous updates

6PM MONDAY UPDATE: Effingham County Sheriff John Monnet said in a statement that volunteer searches will cease as planned at 8pm. Air searches will resume this evening, using thermal imaging. Officials will also be out searching the area as well, in the continued effort to locate Long, now missing for more than 30 hours.

Monnet said that the continued heat was one of the primary reasons volunteers were being suspended, saying "because of the high temperatures today, we had three that were taken to the hospital in Effingham, and seven others that were looked at by EMS. Because of that, my fear is that we don't want to lose anybody during this hot weather." Monnet went on to say, "for the safety and sake of all the civilians, we figure that we will just use our emergency service people from this point on."

There are no plans to utilize volunteer searchers on Tuesday, or going forward at this point. Monnet said if the situation were to change, and volunteers were again needed, the word would be put out.

The number of volunteers, well in excess of 300 for the second day in a row was brought up, and Monnet said, "it's something that I've never experienced before, but to see the people come together and want to accomplish what we are accomplishing today is amazing, and I think it has a lot to say for the community and our surrounding counties."

Below is video of Monnet's press briefing.

4PM MONDAY UPDATE: The search for Willow will resume at 5pm. All responders, emergency and volunteeer, were allowed time for rest and rehab starting at 2pm. A full search effort will progress until 8pm. At that time, due to lack of daylight the search efforts of the volunteer responders will be suspended until further notice. Search efforts by emergency-trained responders will be coordinated from that point, based on the progress made between 5 and 8pm. Authorities are reporting no additional leads. Effingham County Sheriff John Monnet will make a live statement at 5pm, and we will carry that on the news at 5 on 979 XFM and KJ Country 102.3.

1PM MONDAY UPDATE: The search for Willow Long took a break this afternoon to allow searchers time for some shade and rest. At an early afternoon media briefing, Effingham County Chief Deputy Sheriff John Niccum said, "There's not much change; we are still investigating; we are still searching." When asked how long the search will continue, Niccum said, "We don't know when it will end." Effingham and Watson firefighter J.R. Nieman said searchers have covered 18 square miles of the 20 square miles targeted initially. Nieman said some areas have been double- and triple-checked.

As the heat index hovered around 100 degrees, Nieman said, "We're concerned that she's seven years old, with the heat and humidity, out overnight." He said best estimates are that Willow could have traveled three miles from her home, and said that's why the search was initially concentrated in that area.

Officials again asked that anyone with video footage from Watson Sunday or today should contact the Effingham County Sheriff's Department. That includes outdoor video surveillance cameras or footage you might have been shooting of a birthday party. They say while you were concentrating on something in the foreground of the video, there might be something in the background that could help authorities in their search.

Also, those who live on farms or in rural areas are being asked to please check in their outbuildings. And, check whether toys might be missing or might have been moved from where they were last night.

Shumway firefighter Justin Quandt told residents that searchers would be going on their properties, but to not be alarmed, "it's us" he said.

HELP FOR VOLUNTEERS will again be accepted at Effingham's Culver's, on West Fayette Avenue. Bottled water or sports drinks are a need, healthy snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent and towels are items that will be helpful.

10:20AM MONDAY UPDATE: Authorities tell us that the reported description of the clothing that was thought to be worn by Willow is no longer valid. It was initially reported that Willow was wearing a lavender Betty Boop oversize t-shirt, but that shirt has now been located in the home. Police tell us that they now do not have a description of what Long was wearing went she went missing from her home, now more than 24 hours ago in Watson.

8AM MONDAY UPDATE: Effingham County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Paul Kuhns says there is still no evidence of foul play. Searchers have now covered an 8-square mile radius from Long's home, and found nothing. Authorities are also going door to door in areas that were previously searched. Kuhns encoraged those in rural area to check their outbuildings. Kuhns said, "if anything is found out of place, a toy that might be in a different spot than they remember it being, please phone the Sheriff's office at 217-342-2101". When asked about the length of the search, Kuhns aknowledged, "time is not our friend".

Firefighter J.R. Niemann asked that any video shot in this area Sunday, should be taken to the Sheriff's department. He said people that shot video may have been filming one thing, but they may have captured something that might be beneficial to police in locating the missing Willow Long, now approaching the 24-hour period since she's been seen.

Volunteers should report to the Watson Civic Center, located one block east of the fire station. People wishing to donate items like bottled water and other supplies to help searchers, should take items to the Watson Civic Center.

1AM MONDAY UPDATE: Volunteers have been recalled, with nothing found. Dive teams have completed searching a pond that was reported to have footprints "all the way around it", but didn't find anything. Teams have moved on to another pond. Officials will continue to search throughout the night.

IMPORTANT: Volunteers will need to report to the Watson Civic Center in the morning, NOT the fire station. Volunteers may begin to arrive at 6am, but it should be noted that busses will not arive until around 7:30, after they have dropped off kids at school Monday morning. Unit 40 sent out an update Sunday evening advising that school would be in session in the district, and that counselors would be on hand at Southside Grade School for students and teachers. Many of the teachers and faculty from Southside School were on hand and involved in the search Sunday evening for Willow.

Air searches using a thermal imaging system are about to resume in the area, and officials again urge against private citizens searching for Long on their own, as false-positives will only slow the search process.

We will be back with updates when officials return from overnight searches at 6am. Be sure to monitor our Facebook and Twitter pages (linked above) for additional updates.

11:30PM SUNDAY UPDATE: Authorities say they will call in all volunteers at 1am. Police will resume air searches at 1:30am using thermal imaging. Public volunteers may report back at 6am to the Watson Civic Center. Through the night, officials will continue to search in teams for Willow, using ATVs, patrol vehicles and foot searches. 

Effingham County Sheriff John Monnet also confirmed that Effingham County Dive Rescue has been dispatched to a pond north of Watson that has "small footprints all the way around it". Search dogs did not hit on these footprints, but Monnet said the pond will be searched in the continued effort to locate the 7-year old Long, who walked away from her residence more than 12 hours ago.

Below is video from a press conference ealier this evening. We apologize for the delay in getting it online, internet speeds in Watson are an issue.

10PM SUNDAY UPDATE: Authorities tell us they are about to begin a search north of Chaparral Subdivision, in grid-formation, based on earlier tracking dogs indications of possible northern travel by Long. They also tell us they have enough side-by-side's and 4-wheelers.

A large crowd still remains at the Watson Fire Station, with many of them waiting to be dispatched on 4-wheelers and side-by-sides. Horse teams are also set to begin searching. 

8:30PM SUNDAY UPDATE: Effingham County Sheriff John Monnet said, "We don't feel there's foul play, that she just walked off. We're gonna continue until we find her". The Sheriff said, however, "it's been quite a time since she's been missing, and time is not a good thing." Monnet said Willow's mother Cierra Deryke was feeling ill, and was in bed. She got up once to check on Willow and her 3-year old brother, and they were watching TV. She got up later and Willow was gone. She asked her son where Willow was, and the boy pointed toward the front door.

Monnet said Long was wearing a lavendar oversize shirt, bearing the "Betty Boop" emblem. Authorities think she might have gone barefoot. Monnet said tracking dog seemed to indicate she may have traveled toward Effingham, perhaps along the railroad tracks.

7:30PM SUNDAY UPDATE: At approximately 8pm, authorities say they will begin changing their search pattern. Volunteers had been heading out in teams, being transported on flatbed trucks, vans and pickup trucks. This will change to a more surgical type of search at dusk. IMPORTANT: INDIVIDUAL SEARCHERS ARE ASKED TO STOP, and report instead to the Watson Fire Station for deployment, as the use of FLIER (forward looking infared radar) will begin. Any individuals out searching on their own may be spotted by this radar, and search teams will respond those "hits" on the radar, slowing the search for the girl.

6:30PM SUNDAY UPDATE: Authorities tell us 10 ATVs with thermal imaging from MABAS fire divisions are en route toassist in the coming night search. Volunteers are still being accepted and requested, and those turning out will need to be equipped for rougher terrain, and lights for night searches. 

Searches from the air continue as well, with the ARCH helicopter from St. Louis taking 30-minute turns with the helicopter from Air Evac, searching a 1/2 x 1 mile area, working counter-clockwise from Long's home. 

There are numerous people searching on horseback as well, and Cumberland Search and Rescue is sending more horses to assist.

Arcola Fire Department (part of MABAS) has arrived with a light tower.

Effingham County EMA has been notified and is en route.

Effingham City Police Department has personnel on scene assisting in the search.

The Red Cross is on scene providing food and water to volunteers and officials. Individuals have also been donating bottled water and other items to assist volunteers.