ST. LOUIS -- A man faces charges after he allegedly killed his 7-year-old niece who had gone missing from her home in Effingham County, Ill. over the weekend.
Police confirmed the body of Willow Long was found by four search volunteers in an area south of Watson around 7:30 p.m. Monday. near the Little Wabash River.
Authorities said the girl’s mother discovered her daughter was missing after taking a 90-minute nap. When she got up, Willow’s toddler brother pointed at the door.
Her uncle, 22-year-old Justin DeRyke, was arrested at 5:55 a.m. Tuesday. Authorities said he would officially be charged with first-degree murder Wednesday and it is possible more charges will be filed.
No other arrests have been made. Additional information regarding his arrest was not immediately available.
An autopsy confirmed Long’s identity, but her exact cause of death remains unknown. All indications are it was a homicide, prosecutors said.
Long's grandfather Dale DeRyke, told News 4 her death was an accident. He said on Saturday night, while playing with DeRyke's son Justin, Willow fell on a stick in the yard and it went through her neck.
"He was scared, He hid her body, he was scared," DeRyke said.
Authorities said Justin DeRyke never helped in the intital search effort and neighbors also reported a suspicious lack of urgency with him.
"Yeah I seen them over there drinking beer instead of searching for the little girl," one neighbor said. Tha's very pathetic it's awful. If that was my kid, I'd be out there looking 24/7."
While there's talk of plans for a memorial service to help the entire community of Watson heal. The next step comes on Wednesday when Justin DeRyke is scheduled to appear in Effingham County Courthouse for the first time to face formal charges of first-degree murder.