Friends Remember Young Girl, Family Speaks for the First Time

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By Sam Jones
By Andy Shofstall

EFFINGHAM COUNTY-- The town of Watson is still reeling after the loss of Willow Long. Friends are heartbroken, as parents tell their children what happened to the seven-year-old. Willow's grandfather spoke Tuesday night, saying her death was a tragic accident.

There's a memorial in front of Willow's house now. It's lined with letters, bears and balloons, for a young child whose life was cut short.

"She's a little girl. She didn't deserve any of this. No child deserves any of this," Shannon Neal said.

Earlier that day, Willow's house was still considered a crime scene, with police tape and law enforcement out in full force.

She was reported missing Sunday morning by her mother. For more than 30 hours, hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement combed over 18 square miles around the Watson home.

All while police say Willow's uncle, 22-year-old Justin DeRyke, knew what happened to the second grader.

"I don't know why he didn't call or ask for advice," Dale DeRyke added, "Because he was scared he hid her. They found her, he admitted it, and talked to them."

Dale Deryke said his son was playing with Willow Saturday night when she slipped onto a pile of sticks and died. He's torn between the accusations against his son,and the pain of losing Willow too soon.

There are many questions in Watson, and the arrest of a suspect isn't bringing much closure to anyone. Wednesday, Willow's uncle will appear in court for the first time in Effingham County. Formal charges are expected to be introduced then.

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doc said on Wednesday, Sep 11 at 10:27 AM

why did the mother claim she walked outside and vanished while she slept? On Sunday morning if she was gone on Saturday night? There are questions to be answered.

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