Jackson Adams and Tony Huffman
Effingham Daily News
EFFINGHAM — Bond was set at $5 million for Justin DeRyke, the uncle accused of murdering 7-year-old Willow Long, in a probable cause hearing that revealed gruesome details surrounding her death.
In a packed courtroom, filled with family, volunteers and members of the press, Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler said interviews with DeRyke Sunday and Monday led to his arrest. He said interviews with the family revealed Ciara DeRyke, Long's mother, had left her home, at 104 Circle Drive in Watson where she lived with her parents, Dale and Debra DeRyke, as well as the defendant Justin DeRyke and her children, Long and 3-year-old son Nathaniel Graves. She went to a bar at about 7 p.m. Saturday, leaving Justin DeRyke to watch Graves and Long. She would not return home from the bar until after midnight.
In interviews with Illinois State Police investigators Monday, Justin DeRyke said he had been in his bedroom playing video games for much of the night before leaving his room to go into the bathroom to masturbate and watch pornographic films. Upon leaving the bathroom, Long grabbed his arm to bring him downstairs to watch television and scratched DeRyke's arm, drawing blood.
DeRyke said he was angry at seeing blood and chased Long. She fled the house and ran to a brush pile. She fell into the pile and was impaled through the neck with a branch. DeRyke said Long was twitching and he "believed he had to put her out of her misery." DeRyke then said he took a knife from his bedroom, knelt beside Willow, slashed her throat and stabbed her multiple times, aiming for the heart, before wrapping her body in garbage bags, sealing them with duct tape and putting the body into a 1997 White Pontiac Montana minivan. He then dropped the body in a body of water south of Watson.
Ciara DeRyke had previously told police she had made Willow and Graves breakfast on Sunday before going to bed again. She had woken up and called law enforcement to report that Long had gone missing at 10:46 a.m. and Long's glasses were still in the house when she left, which was unusual because Long was extremely near-sighted.
The search by volunteers and law enforcement then began throughout the Watson area, mostly focused on the areas north of Watson. During the search, Justin DeRyke went to his job at a restaurant in Effingham instead of aiding in the search.
Kibler said the body was found by volunteers at around 7:30 p.m. Monday and a small hole in the bag revealed an elbow, with the size of the bags indicating the remains inside might be those of a child. The bags were not opened at the scene and were instead sent to St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital for an autopsy.
The autopsy conducted Tuesday identified the body as Willow Long's and revealed multiple cuts, including a slash across her throat, two stab wounds across her collarbone, one which severed her subclavical vein and was the probable cause of death, and multiple cuts across her arms, indicating that there may have been a struggle. The death was ruled a homicide, most likely as the result of wounds inflicted by a knife or knives. There were no notes in Kibler's statements or in the documents he gave to press indicating evidence that Long's neck had been impaled as Justin DeRyke had said in the interview with authorities.
With the evidence available, Judge Sherri L.T. Tungate ruled probable cause for three counts of first degree murder had been established and set DeRyke's bond at $5 million with the stipulation that he not return to the family's home in Watson, have contact with Ciara DeRyke or Nathaniel Graves and would not have contact with anyone under the age of 18. The sentencing for those charges range from 20 to 100 years in prison or possible life imprisonment.
During a press conference, Kibler would not directly comment on many issues surrounding the case, including the discrepancy in the mother's statements to authorities following Long's disappearance, and particularly that she had made her daughter breakfast Sunday morning — the morning after she was allegedly killed. An estimated time or date of death has not been released.
“What is a lie is not always clear,” said Kibler.
When asked during the press conference if lying during a police investigation is a chargeable offense, Kibler said “you cannot lie to police.”
Long's mother and father, Thomas Long, were not at the hearing Wednesday.
Both Kibler and Effingham County Sheriff John Monnet complimented the community, press and law enforcement for everyone's involvement in finding Willow.
“This might be one of the most heartbreaking events in this county's history,” said Kibler.
He went on to say that the outpouring of support to find Long helped in the eventual location of her body. The four people who found Willow were turned away Monday evening because of the overwhelming hundreds of volunteers who wanted to aid in the search. If not for being turned away, Kibler said, they wouldn't have found Long's body near the Mason-Watson Interstate 57 on-ramp, where they stopped before returning home. It wasn't the primary search area, he added.
A shaky-voiced Monnet complimented the community's response in the search for Long.
“I've never seen so many people come out,” he said. “Please remember the family in your prayers."