It can happen anytime, anywhere, and the most gut-wrenching of all; to anyone. It had happened in Woodstock and we were stunned.

This series is a first person account, told by a parent who has lived through the fear and pain that rocked Woodstock when an eight year old girl was abducted on her way home from school and subsequently murdered.  Elizabeth Maloney takes us through each step of the ordeal and starts with: A girl the same age as my daughter – is missing, she didn’t get home after school. The worry sets in. No longer can a parent feel reassured by the spotlight of safety once provided by broad daylight. Things are different now.  It can happen anytime, anywhere, and the most gut-wrenching of all; to anyone.

By Elizabeth Maloney

WOODSTOCK, ON   April 27, 2012  It started as just another day on that fateful April 8, 2009. It was so much like every other day I don’t even remember how it began. It was a Wednesday, so I would have dropped my then 8year old off at school and then headed into the office. My day would have passed along , predictably and without incident- or at least I assume so. Even if something exciting had happened that day, it was long forgotten; overshadowed by the events that transpired that night.

All we had was a picture of a cute kid who we knew nothing about other than that she was missing. It just got worse and worse.

To this day, I can’t remember how I learned of the disappearance of Tori Stafford. I know a good friend had sent me an email about the missing girl, but I can’t remember if it was before or after the news bite I heard on the radio during my drive home that night. Either way, it instantly had my attention.  I was born and raised in Woodstock and have strong ties to the community through family and friends.   No matter where you go, you always know where home is.

Now I know what you are thinking. Children are taken every day, why the anxiety over this particular child? You have to understand that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Woodstock.  And when it does, the entire city will be talking about it; they move into a collective state of shock and then the fear begins to take over.

I called a few friends that night. Coming from a small city I knew there was a very good chance that someone close to me knew the family of the little girl. It only took a couple of calls to learn the disturbing details. A little girl, about my daughter’s age, disappeared while walking home from school that day.  She went missing earlier in the day and there was a delay in reporting it to police, although no one could explain why. And the police weren’t saying much at all.

This is when the questions began about the Amber Alert. It was a recurring theme throughout the various conversations that night. Why hadn’t the Oxford Community Police Services (OCPS) issued one? They had a missing child on their hands and it only seemed prudent to get this information out as far and as fast as they could. What was holding them back? Was there something they weren’t telling us? With no communication from police on what was happening, we, the community were left in the dark.

At the end of the day Tori was still very fresh on my mind. I tried to be positive, but let’s face it; no one takes kids off the street to feed them ice cream and tuck them into a warm bed. The grim reality is that children are snatched for sinister reasons and that pervading fear would not leave my head that night. I didn’t want to think negatively but my heart was heavy with the knowledge of what had happened to other children who were taken. The sad part is, at this point, I was actually hoping one of her parents had taken her. I thought it gave her the best chance for survival.

Before heading to bed that night I looked in on my daughter.  As I watched her sleep from the bedroom doorway, my mind flashed back to when she was 6 years old and she disappeared one morning before school.  I’ll spare you all the details but to give you an idea, the police were called and the neighbours started looking for her.  She was found safe and sound 25 minutes later.

It was hands down, the most horrible experience of my entire life. And she had only been missing for 25 horrible minutes! At this point Tori had been gone almost 10 hours. I could suddenly feel the same overwhelming tightness in my chest that I had felt for my daughter when I didn`t know where she was.  I couldn’t imagine how her parents were coping. I had the solace of knowing my daughter was safe. They had no such reassurance.

That is the point where Tori and my daughter became tied together in my mind. The two of them shared so much in common: they were the same age, from the same city and had at one point lived within walking distance of each other. These two would have easily been fast friends.

Part 1 of a multi-part series.

 

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