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Family, Neighbors Grieving Willow Long
The search is over. Authorities confirm a child's body found just south of Watson Monday night is that of a missing 7-year-old girl.
Willow Long disappeared Sunday morning from her home in rural Effingham County.
The girl's uncle, Justin DeRyke, is behind bars, charged with first-degree murder in connection with the case.
This evening, ABC Newschannel 20's Christina Mueller spoke with DeRyke's father. He said Willow's death was an accident, and he panicked afterward.
Police were searching outside of Willow's home for most of the day today. The yard around the house was roped off. Now, the tape is down. It's been replaced with cards and stuffed animals that neighbor kids brought over.
A massive search ensued when Willow's mother reported her missing.
At the time, police believed she just wandered away from her home while watching cartoons with her little brother.
Officials tell us her mother was in bed ill when Willow disappeared. Her father lives out-of-state.
Here in Watson, one mom we talked to said she can't imagine how she's going to talk to her 6-year-old son about the case. Her son picked out a stuffed frog to leave in front of the street near Willow's house. Friends tell us Willow loved the movie "The Princess and the Frog."
"How do you a tell a 6-year-old their friend's dead, and that they were killed?," family friend Dawn Erikson said. "It would've been different if she had been lost, if they would've found her like that. How do you tell a 6-year-old that her family killed her?"
We talked to Justin Kollman, whose sister was a friend of Willow's.
"She's fine," Justin said. "She went to make Willow a note last night. She found out Willow was gone this morning. She wasn't very happy about that."
"Willow, we love you," Erikson said. "And we're so sorry."
Police are still investigating the case. Several evidence bags were removed from the scene today. Parents said they sent kids to school so they wouldn't have to see this.
Late in the afternoon, a group of kids from the neighborhood brought cards and stuffed animals to leave in front of Willow's house. As parents come home from work, more and more are walking over to the house. Willow's grandfather is outside thanking the kids.
Justin DeRyke will enter a plea in Effingham County court Wednesday afternoon.