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Willow Long Update: Mother of slain Ill. girl investigated by state child and family services, spokesman says

The uncle of Willow Long, a 7-year-old Illinois girl found dead, will be charged with murder. KMOX

The uncle of Willow Long, a 7-year-old Illinois girl found dead, will be charged with murder.
KMOX

(CBS/AP) EFFINGHAM, Ill. - The mother of slain Illinois girl Willow Long is being investigated by the state's Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and the girl's three-year-old brother has been taken into protective custody by the department, a DCF spokesman tells CBS News' Crimesider.

The DCFS is also investigating the girl's live-in uncle, said spokesman Dave Clarkin, who also said he's subject of a criminal investigation. Twenty-two-year-old Justin DeRyke was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in the death of the 7-year-old girl.  Prosecutors say DeRyke told investigators he killed his niece to end her suffering after she accidentally fell onto a brush pile Saturday and pierced her neck with a stick near the family's Watson, Ill. home.

Clarkin said the DCFS investigations into Long's mother and uncle were launched on Sept. 8 -- the same day the girl was reported missing -- after someone called a DCFS hotline to report allegations of neglect and abuse. Two allegations of neglect were reported against the girl's mother, Ciarra DeRyke, and one allegation of abuse was reported against Justin DeRyke, he said.

Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler tells Crimesider there are no criminal charges against Ciarra DeRyke "at this time." The criminal investigation is still in its early stages and it's not clear whether more charges will be filed in the case, he said.

Clarkin couldn't provide further details about the nature of the DCFS allegations. The investigations, which should be complete in about 60 days, will determine whether the allegations are true and aim to ensure the safety of the surviving child, Clarkin said. Once completed, the department and others will make a recommendation to a judge as to whether the child should be re-united with the family or placed in another home, he said. 

Justin DeRyke, 22, of Watson, Ill., will be charged in the murder of his 7-year-old niece, Willow Long, prosecutors said.
KMOX

Though he wouldn't speak to whether the three-year-old child was currently with other family members, he said about half of the children taken into protective custody by the state are placed with relatives and the other half are placed with a foster care provider.

The department's hotline fields about 250,000 calls a year regarding about 100,000 children, Clarkin said - of those, only about 4,500 are taken into protective custody.

Before Willow Long was killed last weekend, the agency had no involvement with the Effingham County family, Clarkin told the Associated Press.

Justin DeRyke lived with his parents, Dale and Deborah DeRyke, his sister, Ciarra DeRyke, and Ciarra DeRyke's two children, reports Fox2 in St. Louis. On the evening of Sept. 7, Dale and Deborah DeRyke, who are truck drivers, were on the road, reports the station. The children's mother reportedly went to a bar and left her two children in the care of their uncle, Justin DeRyke.

DeRyke told investigators he was home alone with Willow and her three-year-old brother Saturday night when Willow accidentally scratched him, according to court documents obtained by CBS affiliate KMOX. This reportedly angered him and caused him to yell at Willow which in turn led her to run out of the house and towards a brush pile in the family's backyard.

DeRyke said he chased after her, but she tripped and fell into the brush pile causing a stick to impale her neck, the station reports, according to the documents.

DeRyke reportedly told police Willow began to twitch and he believed he had to end her suffering, so he grabbed a knife out of his bedroom, slit her throat and then stabbed her in the heart approximately five times.

According to court documents, DeRyke then told police he put Willow's body into several plastic bags and secured the bags with duct tape. Afterwards, DeRyke said he disposed Willow's body in a rural area south of Watson, Illinois.

Volunteers discovered Willow's body around 7:30 p.m. Monday and DeRyke was arrested around 6 a.m. Tuesday.

An autopsy conducted Tuesday on the girl revealed that her throat had been slashed. Smaller stab wounds were also discovered near her collarbone and neck. Doctors also found defensive wounds on Willow's hands, according to KMOX.

Funeral services for the girl will be held Monday at Effingham's First Baptist Church, and a visitation is scheduled to take place Saturday at the Hearts Rock Cafe in Effingham High School.

Complete coverage of Willow Long on Crimesider

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for CBSNews.com's Crimesider.

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