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Published:September 11th, 2013 08:14 EST
7-Year-Old Willow Long Died As a Result of Homicide; But What`s Behind This Harrowing Account?

7-Year-Old Willow Long Died As a Result of Homicide; But What`s Behind This Harrowing Account?

By John G. Kays

7-year-old Willow Long`s sudden disappearance from a small town in Illinois (Watson is a village actually), as it played out in the news, and an equally sudden discovery of her body by volunteers Monday night, is both shocking to the community she was growing up in and disturbing to an eager audience watching events unfold, most strangely as it is. The main emotion I`m experiencing, is one of disbelief (nearly denial), along with a tremendous feeling of sadness. 

Once the numbness wears off a bit, as I lie awake in bed, the rational side of my brain becomes engaged in a series of probing questions, that look like they could have been scribbled down in a homicide detectives notebook. After hearing on HLN that Willow Long`s body had been found, and also that her uncle (who lived with her) Justin DeRyke, 22, had been arrested for her murder, I jettisoned plans to write another lumbering story on George Zimmerman and Shellie Zimmerman`s `Ipad Fiasco,` favoring a tragic incident in the Midwest, with scenes of endless cornfields and soybeans, and with Real People who have grassroots values.

I read every article I could find on Willow Long`s case, most of them simply repeating a small bunch of facts: how Willow disappeared (or when she vanished), the enthusiastic support from the local and surrounding community, spearheading search parties in scorching heat, and then finally, the summaries or disclosures of the discovery of Willow`s body and the subsequent arrest of this youthful uncle, who we really don`t know anything about.

Well, that`s not all we don`t know (which may explain why the journalism available is so thin and wooden); for example, we don`t know what the cause of death is for Willow Long, yet we do know that detectives had enough to charge Justin DeRyke. Boy, I sure want to know what evidence they have on him, and may find out today when he`s indicted! I will say, however, a dearth of reporting is countered by one piece posted by WICS News Channel 20, `Willow Long: What Happened And Coping With The Loss.`

The merits of this article (unfortunately, I don`t see the author credit anywhere), are that the grandfather (Dale DeRyke) of Willow and the father of the suspect was interviewed by this reporter, and Dale claims his son told him Willow`s death was the result of an odd, one off accident. Obviously, the Effingham County (Illinois) authorities arn`t buying this rationale for the little red-haired girl`s death. Okay, so we have a real mystery on our hands here! 

To extend the account a trifle more, we have Willow running out of the house (after watching a Disney movie with her brother) between 9 and 10:30 AM Sunday, with her uncle chasing after her (were they playing a misplaced game of hide and seek?), when she somehow crashes into a pile of sharp sticks, one of which pierces through her neck and through her head, supposedly. Okay, with that set of facts, naturally, Mr. DeRyke is frightened, so he takes her body away and hides it somewhere (the news of where she was found exactly still hasn`t been made public).

This leads me to believe, when grasping at straws as to what the detectives have their hands on, that the nature of Willow`s wounds precludes an accident scenario. Therefore, law enforcement can rule out what Justin claims, that Willow stumbled on a sharp stick, which impaled her (if you`ll excuse the projection). 

There should be more on this very soon, which will provide padding for some heretofore very lean news coverage. Did Willow anger Mr. DeRyke? How so? Has he ever been in trouble with the law before? Why`d he do it? How did he do it? Was his dad suspicious of him when the search party was organized? And how about Willow`s mother? Was she suspicious?