Warning: Many of the details of this crime are gruesome, and may not be suitable for all readers.
(KMOV) – A 22-year-old man on Wednesday was officially charged with killing his 7-year-old niece as more details got released on what happened in the moments leading up to and after her death.
Justin DeRyke was charged at the Effingham County Courthouse with three counts of first-degree murder in the death of Willow Long. His bond was set at $5 million.
According to court documents, DeRyke told officers he was home alone watching Long and other children when the alleged incident occurred. Police said Long’s mother was at a local bar and her grandparents were working as truck drivers at the time.
DeRyke told police he spend most of the evening in his room playing video games. When he left the room to go to the bathroom, he said Long tugged on his arm and asked him to watch a movie with her. During the exchange, DeRyke said the girl accidentally scratched his arm, causing it to bleed.
He reportedly got upset and yelled at Long, which caused her to run into the front yard. According to his statement DeRyke said she then fell on a brush pile, causing a stick to impale her in the neck.
The 22-year-old said he wanted to end her suffering.
Prosecutors said DeRyke then slit her throat before stabbing her in the heart and throat. Police said DeRyke put the girl’s body in a plastic bag, duct taped it and dumped it in the Little Wabash River. That’s where her body was found by four volunteers around 7:30 p.m. Monday. DeRyke was arrested about 6 a.m. Tuesday.
According to police, an autopsy concluded Long's throat had been slashed, and she had stab wounds on her collarbone and neck, as well as defensive wounds on her hands.
Many of DeRyke’s family were in attendance Wednesday to show their support for the murder suspect and victim. Many volunteers who helped with Long’s search efforts were also on hand.
The charges come a day after Long’s grandfather, Dale DeRyke, claimed the alleged murder was an accident.
“He was scared, He hid her body, he was scared,” Dale DeRyke DeRyke said Tuesday afternoon.
But even though the family said it was an accident, Dale DeRyke tried to explain why his son was being charged with premeditated murder.
“They have to, I understand. If he would have been smart enough, I don’t want to say smart enough, aware enough to call 9-1-1 or something, then maybe some manslaughter or negligence thing or something,” Dale DeRyke said. “I understand. He wasn’t. It’s his mistake. He realizes that I think. I got to see him today and talk to him. There’s nothing but remorse.”
Authorities said Justin DeRyke never helped in the initial 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. That’s very pathetic, it’s awful. If that was my kid, I’d be out there looking 24/7.”
Long's mother reportedly told investigators she had woken up and seen her daughter watching a movie, and then went back to bed. She then said when she woke up in the morning Long was gone.
When asked if she could face charges for allegedly misleading investigators, the state's attorney said he could not comment.