It was a name we all now knew and a face we would recognize in an instant – but we didn’t know where she was and we were all afraid.

Part 3:

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

WOODSTCOK, Ontario May 1, 2012    The first degree murder trial of Michael Rafferty, had been moved to London, Ontario.  Terri-Lynne McClintic had already pleaded guilty to the murder of Tori Stafford.   The prosecution has made their case against Rafferty – his defence counsel has said Rafferty will not testify and that they will call just the one witness.  The trial will move to its closing phase by the end of the week. But back in 2009 we were at the beginning of the story of this horrendous crime and it is important to understand what the community was going through.

The pictures of a cute 8 year old child now missing had captivated the community. It was to get worse.

On the first full day she was missing her name was Victoria Stafford and the Woodstock girl’s face was emblazoned on flyers and all over television.  The media broadcast the typical missing person description: 5’4” tall, 62 lbs. with blue eyes and short blonde hair. Last seen wearing a green shirt, denim skirt , black and white shoes and a black Hannah Montana jacket with white fur-lined hood;  possibly carrying a pink and purple Bratz bag. And that was all we knew of the missing child.

Over the next couple of days Victoria became “Tori”- the affectionate short-form of her name that her family and school mates called her. The police and media gave us the cute tender little insights to Tori in an attempt to humanize her, presumably to entice her abductors into releasing her. We learned Tori was just like other girls her age. She was a precocious, inquisitive child whose favourite colour was purple.  Tori liked puppies and butterflies. She was caring and had a tight relationship with her eleven year old brother Dylan.

The appeal did not work on Tori’s abductors but it certainly did on Woodstock. In a few days the community had adopted Tori as their own, many giving freely of their time, volunteering in the search for the lost little girl. She was the topic of daily conversations; ‘Have you heard the updates from the police? Who do you think took her?  Do you think we will find her?’ Everyone had a theory or a tid-bit to tell. All of us hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

A Mother with a serious drug problem, separated from the Father of her children struggled to keep some semblance of sanity in her life faced a community that for a time suspected her.

I did not personally know Tori Stafford, or her parents, Tara McDonald or Rodney Stafford. I knew people who knew them, or knew of them.  The theories, viewpoints and gossip that spun, sometimes out of control, throughout Woodstock during her disappearance, are that of the community.  We were all lost, terrified, devastated.

As the days of searching dragged on, new information about Tori’s home life started to tell us a lot more about this little girl. Mainly about her home life and the type of relationship she had with her parents and brother. This little girl, that most people in the city did not know before her abduction, was now becoming someone whose home life and the intimate details of her family’s situation was being talked about by everyone.  There was no shortage of sympathy or worry for her.

The first thing that came to light was that Tori was not staying with either parent at the time she was abducted. She and brother Daryn had been living with their maternal grandmother, Linda Winters. It had yet to be fully explained why this was the case, though one might surmise it has something to do with Tara’s issues.

Tara McDonald, Tori’s mother, was living with her boyfriend James Goris and had actually just moved to a new place a week before Tori’s abduction. Many in the community have theorized that Tara’s addiction to the painkiller Oxycontin is the reason for her childrens alternate living arrangements.

Tara had been known in the community for her drug use; it was hardly a secret. Whether Tara had moved the kids in with her mother because she knew she was not able to look after them while battling her drug addiction or if the drug addiction left no room for the children in her immediate world was heavily debated in the community.  There was more than enough “judgement” going around to satisfy everyone.

Whatever the reason, it was clear there was some kind of disconnect between Tara and her children before Tori disappeared.

Tori's Father, absent from much of his daughters life, struggled in his own way with the suspicion within the community.

Rodney Stafford, Tori’s and Daryn’s father was less familiar to the community.  According to Tara, Rodney was an absentee father, frequently missing set visits with the children. The rumours throughout the community seem to echo a similar sentiment, however Rodney was not talking- neither confirming nor denying the rumours.

And finally there was Daryn, Tori’s older brother. The media and talk in the city has never disputed the fact that Tori and her brother were close and loved each other very much. They squabbled from time to time as all siblings do, but they always made up. Daryn always walked his sister home from school, save that fateful day.

The community now knew that Tori was a normal kid, just like yours, just like mine.  We knew too that her parents were working through their issues and that Tori and her brother were not living with either parent but with their maternal grandparent.

We were now into day five and there is nothing for the public to begin to come to terms with.  Where was she, who was feeding her, was she alive?  She had just disappeared and no one seemed to be able to do anything.  The police were not giving the public the kind of information they needed.

Tori and her brother Daryn were close to inseparable. He used to walk her to school and pick her up after class. On that fateful day in 2009 - he didn't pick her up.

Sometimes it`s easier when we can point to something to explain this type of tragedy, maybe the child had run away or is high on drugs and hiding. But Tori did nothing, nothing but be a normal 8 year old.  Woodstock would have to deal with its grief and wait sometime for closure to come to the city.

Meanwhile the suspicions were mounting and the spotlight kept coming back to the parents – but no one could figure out who the woman in the white puffy jacket is and what role this played in the abduction.

It was going to get even more confusing.

Part 3 of a multi-part series.

Click on the link for part 2

Click on this link for part 1

 

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