ST. LOUIS (AP) – Child welfare officials have taken a southern Illinois boy into protective custody after authorities say his 7-year-old sister was stabbed to death by a live-in uncle, a spokesman for the state agency said Thursday.
Illinois Department of Children & Family Services spokesman Dave Clarkin said that before Willow Long was killed last weekend, the agency had no involvement with the family from Watson, an Effingham County village about 100 miles northeast of St. Louis. The boy is 3, and Clarkin did not specify his whereabouts.
Justin DeRyke, 22, was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder. A prosecutor said DeRyke insisted to investigators he killed his niece late Saturday or early Sunday to “put her out of her misery” after he says she fell onto a brush pile and pierced her neck with a stick near the family’s home.
DeRyke is jailed on $5 million bond and does not yet have an attorney. He’s set to appear again in court next Thursday.
Willow’s body was found Monday night near the Little Wabash River, wrapped in several garbage bags and sealed with duct tape. DeRyke was arrested the next morning.
Kibler said an autopsy showed Willow sustained numerous knife wounds, including a slash across her throat and a fatal stab wound that severed a vein. He said cuts on her hands suggested there had been a struggle. The probable-cause statement recited in court made no mention of any autopsy findings of a possible neck wound caused by a stick.
During a news conference after DeRyke’s court appearance Wednesday, Kibler sidestepped discussing claims by Willow’s mother that she last saw her daughter alive watching television Sunday morning and that she fell asleep and woke up to discover the girl was gone. That version appears to contradict DeRyke’s account that the girl already was dead when the mother claimed to have seen her.
Kibler said the investigation was ongoing and that “there will be a lot more details that will come out.”
Services for Willow will be at 11 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church in Effingham, Ill., followed by family-only burial services. Visitation has been scheduled for 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at Effingham High School.