CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – More than 20 months have passed since Steven Butler II’s teenage son was taken from him, but not a day has gone by that he’s not thought of him. In a brief statement shared with WCIA, Butler described the closure brought by Wednesday’s sentencing of the man who pleaded guilty to the murder of 14-year-old Steven Butler III:

Just very relieved with this ordeal being resolved. It’s been too long and we have waited so long for this to be concluded. This monster has received his full due for his choices and for taking my son from all of us and a beautiful soul from this world that was much brighter with him in it.

Steven Butler II

57-year-old Daryl Vandyke will spend the next 40 years behind bars after admitting to killing Butler with “an axe or sharp-edged garden tool” on July 29, 2021. About 14 hours later, his body was discovered by bicyclists.

Missing Persons Awareness Network President Gia Wright sat with Butler’s family at Wednesday’s hearing, during which she says both the tension and emotions were palpable in the courtroom.

“They [Butler’s family] can close a chapter and begin a new one,” Wright said. “I think that they’re happy knowing that he [Vandyke] has an entire 40 years without question that they don’t have to worry about him getting out and hurting another child.”

Wright recounted details provided to her over the past year and a half, including that Vandyke offered Steven Butler III money to mow his lawn on the day of the murder. When asked about previous reports describing Steven Butler II and Vandyke as “acquaintances,” she clarified there’s been a misunderstanding. She said the two briefly met in a park, and that Steven Butler II had actively tried to prevent his son from responding to Vandyke’s attempts to contact him after.

“The word acquaintance really bothers Steven because they were not acquaintances,” Wright shared. “The word alludes that they had gotten along. What happened after that, I believe, is that Vandyke had his eyes on Steven.”

When Butler was first reported missing, Wright says he was initially labeled a runaway – a word she says implies “that the child chose to walk out of their house to go somewhere and they’ll be back.” Ultimately, the case inspired her to reach out to state legislators about what would become House Bill 3896, also known as Steven’s Law.

“There’s some police departments that will automatically list every child as endangered. Most of them are not like that. So what we’re asking for in this law is that the word runaway is no longer used,” Wright said.

If enacted, the bill would define “endangered missing youth” by replacing the word “runaway” for those under 18 years old with “missing.” It would also provide that Illinois State Police create a “Be on the Lookout” system in the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System to alert the Missing Persons Awareness Network when a missing child’s report is entered into the system.

Representative Lance Yednock sponsored the bill and shared this statement with WCIA:

The bill is still being worked on. Local constituents asked to consider the bill which would aim to streamline and define further who should be considered a missing person, as well as allow organizations to get involved with any search and support for the families. There is concern that we could do more to look for citizens, especially youth, who may be considered runaway’s when they may have been victims of abduction or trafficking. There is more to work out, but I am hopeful we can try and make the process better if only for adding collaboration amongst law enforcement agencies and the public.

State Rep. Lance Yednock, 76th District

Wright says Butler’s family hopes the bill would prevent the same thing from happening to any other missing children.