Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

September 11, 2013

Community gathers to honor Willow Long

Candlelight Vigil

WATSON — A sea of lit candles were raised around a single, newly planted weeping willow tree Wednesday evening by the many who mourn 7-year-old Willow Long.

"I consider the weeping willow an expression of the sadness Watson is feeling," said Rhonda Goeckner, a Watson woman who donated and planted the tree outside Watson Civic Center with her husband, Nick, as a reminder to the community of what they've lost.

Hundreds of people gathered, from the community who knew her to those who didn't but searched long hours for her safe return. They lit candles and offered memories of a girl always happy, always cheerful, and always willing to show the people she loved that she cared.

"Just to let you know what kind of a girl this was, every time she got on the bus she would give me a hug. I know she's in a better place, but there's no more hugs from Willow," said Long's school bus driver Allen Birch, who took her every morning to South Side School.

The support of hundreds is the only thing keeping Thomas Long, Willow's father, going. After arriving from Texas on Tuesday before the body was found, Long said he has found a constant source of support from a community who has come together.

"Obviously, I'm hurting and grieving, but I'm so overwhelmed by this community and they've kept me in one piece," he said. "I

wouldn't be standing here right now, being able to talk to you, if

there weren't all of these people there for her."

Many in the audience couldn't hold back tears as prayers and remembrances were offered on Willow's behalf.

“This is devastating,” said Kendra Kuhlman, a Mason native who was one of the many who volunteered to search, bring food and supplies, and lend an ATV. “We held out so much hope that someone would find her.”

For her and many others, the glimmer of hope now in spite of the tragedy is the community pulling together for Willow and one another.

“I'm proud to say I'm from this community,” said Kuhlman.

MacKenzey White, a senior at Effingham High School, said students are reeling from news of Willow's death.

“People at school just can't believe this happened,” said White. “Nobody understands why someone would do this.”

White and her mother, Paula, both searched Sunday, hoping and praying for the best.

“I hope this brings people closer to God,” said White. “Not push them away.”

Long said he's glad to see the community support a girl who meant the world to him and meant so much to so many others.

"I love her and everyone is with her, and I'm so happy that she's looking down on us now," he said. "I'm so sorry that this happened to her, but I know that she's safe and I know that she's doing great now."

Text Only
Local News
  • No Headline Provided SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Here are the winning numbers selected Wednesday in the Illinois State Lottery:My 3-Midday6-2-4My 3-Evening4-7-5Pick Three-Midday4-8-0Fireball: 3Pick Three-Evening5-6-0Fireball: 4Pick Four-Midday3-5-5-1Fireball: 2Pick Four-Evening6-

    July 31, 2014

  • tony- dieterich app maker pic Dieterich grad markets word game application TONY HUFFMANDaily NewsDalton Hinterscher is something of a Renaissance man in the making.A former standout basketball player at Dieterich High School, Hinterscher followed his intellectual pursuits into college. Entering his second year as a Software

    July 31, 2014 2 Photos

  • Complex support divides council All indications at Tuesday’s special meeting of the Effingham City Council indicates Effingham Park District will not get the $1 million it is asking for to help build the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Center.In fact, Mayor Merv Gillenwater

    July 30, 2014

  • Correction It was incorrectly reported in Saturday’s Effingham Daily News that federal sex crime suspect Nathan Maphis was at large. Maphis is being held in Madison County Jail. The newspaper erred. Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, at bill.

    July 30, 2014

  • tony- community garden 2 Learning and growing together The installation of a Effingham Community Garden sign marks the growing success of a common place for Effingham residents to cultivate plants and produce.“We have 23 large plots and two small plots out here this year,” said University of Illinois Mas

    July 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • 7-30 kitchen fire pic Kitchen fire damages home An unattended kitchen stove led to a full-still fire call at 507 Park Hills Drive Tuesday afternoon.A passerby made a 911 call and reported visible smoke from the eaves of the home at 1:16 p.m. Arriving on scene, Effingham firefighters entered the ho

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Man fatally shot in Pana standoff, officer wounded

    Illinois State Police(ISP) and Christian County Sheriff's Office are investigating a shooting that occurred on Tuesday, July 29, in rural Christian County that involved ISP SWAT, a Pana Police officer and an armed offender.

    July 29, 2014

  • City to determine contribution A request by Effingham Park District representatives for a million dollars to help construct the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Center is being considered at a special Effingham City Council meeting this evening.Some commissioners questioned

    July 29, 2014

  • 7-29 Filming PRIMARY Effingham grad returns to make film Travis Long says he learned a lot from directing his first full-length feature several years ago.“Kill Me Now was a learning experience, both in shooting and distribution,” the 1998 Effingham High School graduate said.With a full production crew and

    July 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • McCarter.jpg Some lawmakers donate pay

    Illinois lawmakers restoring their pay after years of furlough days has prompted some state representatives to give back to their communities — a move some local lawmakers call a political one.

    July 27, 2014 3 Photos

AP Video

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.