It's an incredibly surreal feeling to see someone you knew from high school being charged with murder. It's a feeling I imagine most of the twenty-somethings in my town of Effingham felt when we saw the sad conclusion to the story of Willow Long.
In less than 48 hours, after over 300 volunteers from the community searching the Watson area for seven-year-old Willow Long, her body was found in a plastic bag near a pond. Later, her twenty-two year old uncle, Justin Deryke, was arrested and charged with first degree murder. As the case unfolded it was discovered that the reason behind the murder was that Willow Long had fallen into a brush pile causing her neck to be impaled. She was reportedly twitching in pain. Deryke then stabbed her to death in order to “put her out of her misery.” Afterwards he hid her body, apparently scared about the eventual punishment for his actions.
One must wonder, “Why didn't Deryke take her to a hospital?” That, of course, is the real injustice of the case. Deryke did not seem to have killed her out of malice; he killed her in order to solve a problem. Willow was in pain, and instead of trying to solve that problem with an attempt to save her life, he opted for the certitude of ending it.
A contrasting solution was the volunteer search party that looked for Willow, trying to safely return her home. They had a problem as well, but instead of seeking a life-taking solution, they sought a life-affirming one, even though it meant going through more trouble. Even though it meant not having certain solutions. They cared about Willow and that informed the means by which tried to solve their problem.
The lesson of this case is a very human one that extends beyond Effingham. It is about the means that we use to solve the problems inherent in this world. Perhaps we can learn that in the face of other problems—chemical weapons, exacting justice upon a murderer, dealing with an unwanted pregnancy—we should seek the life-affirming solution even if it is less certain.