Monday, Dec 9, 2013
Emotional Vigil For Willow Long, Uncle Formally Charged
EFFINGHAM COUNTY -- It was another day filled with emotion in Effingham county over the killing of seven-year-old Willow Long. The girl's uncle, Justin DeRyke, went to court to face first degree murder charges. Then, Wednesday evening, hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight vigil to remember the little girl who touched many lives.
Thomas Long is Willow's father. He traveled from Texas this week for his pride and joy, his only child.
"I'm hurting and grieving, so overwhelmed by this community," Long explained.
A community that hosted a candlelight vigil for Willow Wednesday night, so everyone could remember a red-headed girl who loved the color purple. The night was filled with emotion as people shared their memories of Willow and prayed with one another for the girl.
A willow tree outside Watson's Civic Center is now a formal memorial for Willow Long. It's piled high with letters, flowers and bears.
The vigil was a time for healing, but Willow's murder has shaken the people of Watson to their core. Maria McCord says her children can't sleep at night and have many questions
"[They say] mommy how can an uncle do that? I said I don't know, I don't know how to explain that to you," McCord said.
Just hours before, authorities charged Willow's uncle, Justin DeRyke, with three counts of first degree murder. He appeared in an Effingham courtroom where state's attorney Brian Kibler introduced a new timeline of events in Willow's passing.
Kibler says DeRyke babysat Willow and her younger brother alone Saturday night, that Willow asked him to watch a movie, grabbed DeRyke's arm, and scratched it. This angered DeRyke so he chased her from the house to a brush pile where Willow fell and her neck was impaled by a stick. DeRyke told investigators, to end her suffering, he grabbed a knife, slit Willow's throat and tried to stab her heart five times.
The prosecutor says DeRyke then put Willow's body in a bag and disposed of it in a rural area south of town, where four volunteers found it two days later.
This account differs vastly from what Willow's mother told police Sunday morning. And authorities would not elaborate on the discrepancies.
Willow's father is shocked at the brutality.
"If i had any inkling... anything like this would happen ,Willow wouldn't be there," Thomas Long said.
Visitation for Willow Long will be 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday evening at the Hearts Rock Café in the Effingham High School. Funeral services will be held at 11:00 a.m., Monday, September 16 at First Baptist Church in Effingham with a private burial to follow.
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Humidity: 86 %