- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

WATSON, Ill. (AP) - The mother of 7-year-old Willow Long, who was found stabbed to death last year, has spoken at a memorial walk after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with the case.

Ciara DeRyke was sentenced to 120 days in jail and 18 months of probation in January after pleading guilty to obstruction, as prosecutors said she lied to police who were investigating the girl’s disappearance.

Willow’s uncle, Justin DeRyke, is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in March to first-degree murder for stabbing the girl in the chest. Searchers found Willow’s body wrapped in several garbage bags and sealed with duct tape on Sept. 9, 2013, a few miles from her family’s home in Watson.

On Saturday, Ciara DeRyke spoke with a trembling voice to a crowd at the Walk for Willow event, telling them her daughter had an “outgoing, positive look on life,” the Effingham Daily News reported (https://bit.ly/1sUMpoQ ).

“I started to write a couple different speeches, but I trashed them and decided to just come up here and talk about Willow,” DeRyke said. “She was the most beautiful, happy little girl ever.”

The Walk for Willow included games, a bake sale, balloon release and face painting.

Event organizer Vanessa Merritt, whose daughter was friends with Willow, said she began the walk because “there was so much negativity around Willow being killed.”

“I felt at the time like the negativity was starting to define who she was. If you knew Willow, you would know she was such a happy person, and she wouldn’t want that,” Merritt said.

Prosecutors last year said Ciara DeRyke didn’t participate in her daughter’s killing or make efforts to conceal it, but lied to investigators about when she saw her daughter to appear to be a better mother. That deception thwarted the search for the girl, prosecutors said.

Watson, a village of about 730 residents, is about 100 miles northeast of St. Louis.

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Information from: Effingham Daily News, https://www.effinghamdailynews.com


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