EFFINGHAM (AP) – A 7-year-old southern Illinois girl who authorities say was stabbed to death by an uncle was laid to rest Monday after mourners eulogized her as a loving, angelic child.
Prosecutors in Effingham County have charged Justin DeRyke, 22, with first-degree murder in Willow Long’s death, alleging he stabbed the girl to death late Sept. 7 or early Sept. 8 near the family’s home in Watson, a 730-resident village about 100 miles northeast of St. Louis.
“I’ve thought and I’ve prayed and I’ve prayed and I’ve thought about what I could say about Willow and I realized that there’s nothing that I can tell everyone here about Willow that you don’t already know,” the Effingham Daily News quoted Thomas Long as telling some 150 mourners during his daughter’s funeral. “She was wonderful and perfect, and we all loved her.”
Authorities say DeRyke insisted to investigators he killed his niece 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. Willow’s body was found Sept. 9 near the Little Wabash River, wrapped in several garbage bags and sealed with duct tape. DeRyke was arrested the next morning.
DeRyke remained jailed Monday on $5 million bond and was scheduled to appear in court again Thursday. It’s unclear if he has an attorney.
During Willow’s funeral, a visiting pastor from Texas tried to comfort the grieving.
“We want to be reminded today that we are in a place of worship, and that’s what we do — we worship our God, God who didn’t create death but gave us a place to go,” the Rev. Dan Tarno of Grace Bible Fellowship Baptist Church in Canton, Texas, said in opening the services.
Thomas Long, the girl’s father, said his late daughter was at peace.
“You’re with the Lord now, safe and free, and you have eternity with him forever,” he said. “You will always be my little angel. Please don’t be sad for me, Willow. One day you’ll open your eyes, and I’ll be there with you to hold you as we walk through the kingdom of heaven with our Lord.
“I will always love you Willow, and I miss you so very much.”
Information from: Effingham Daily News, http://www.effinghamdailynews.com