Woodstock slept without knowing where the missing eight year old was. We hoped against hope she would be found by morning

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, Ontario   April 26, 2012    Day two.  Woodstock slept while the Oxford Community Police Services (OCPS) worked on a lead. In typical TV detective style, they retraced Tori’s steps attempting to pin-point the spot from which she was taken. Figuring out the approximate direction and timing of Tori’s movements, police began looking for a witness.

All the community had was a grainy picture of a woman in a white puffy coat with a little girl walking along beside her.

After questioning several people who had been in the area that day, police came across video footage  captured from a security camera located at College Avenue Secondary School, a local high school a mere 200 yards away from Tori’s own school, Oliver Stephens. Examination of the grainy video showed Tori walking home from school at 3:32pm,  – she was not alone. Walking with Tori was a young woman, approximately 5’1”- 5’2” tall, weighing 120-125lbs with straight long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. The woman was wearing a puffy white jacket and dark pants.

Tori did not appear in distress, nor did it appear she was being forced into going with this woman. OCPS didn’t know what they were looking at. Was this a friend? Was this someone who merely fell in step with an child and had a one-time conversation? Or was this Tori’s abductor? Rodney Stafford and Tara McDonald, Tori’s parents were brought in to view the hazy footage.  Both of them left the station declaring they did not recognize the woman. In the hopes of getting the woman in the video to come forward police took to calling her a “person of interest” rather than a suspect.

The details spilled over the radio as I was getting ready for work. Twelve hours after Tori’s disappearance there was finally a real lead. But a woman- that I did not expect! When I learned of Tori’s disappearance I had subconsciously assumed she had been taken by a man. Did this woman take Tori? Why would a woman take an 8 year old little girl? And most importantly, who was this woman?

 

Police posters went up throughout the city. Volunteers took part in searches.

On April 10th, two days after Tori went missing, OCPS began conducting ground searches in the city with the aid of volunteers from the community. They searched through backyards and park areas, any spot a child could possibly be hiding. Volunteers were sent door to door asking to check backyards, dog runs, garages- no stone was left unturned. K-9 units, helicopters, trained Search & Rescue were all brought in. I still have vivid memories of the helicopters hovering low over the city.

On day two of the search, Woodstock Mayor Michael Harding announced that police departments from other communities had offered to help look for Tori. By now though, things were taking a more ominous tone. The searches so far had yielded no new information on Tori’s whereabouts and people were really starting to worry. Fears that we might not find Tori alive or at all began to creep into people’s thoughts. Parents began to actively wonder if a predator was on the loose and children found themselves facing tighter restrictions on their whereabouts.

With the assistance of the other communities, leads began to pour in. No matter how small, each one was diligently followed up. But even with all this effort and thousands of kilometres searched there was still no sign of Tori, or any clues to where she was or what had happened to her.

With no answers forthcoming, people in Woodstock began building and grasping at theories to explain away what had happened to Tori. And it didn’t take long for the rumour to surface that the woman in the video was possibly Tori’s own mother Tara McDonald. A really good look at that video footage clearly showed that the woman in the video was shorter and thinner than Tara but that did little to quash the rumours.

Woodstock was obsessed with anything about Tori and what could have happened to her.   Whispering about both parents became the emerging trend amongst Woodstonians, and came to a head when Rodney and Tara were subjected to polygraph tests April 12,  4 days after Tori’s disappearance.   When police declined to comment on the results of the polygraph, citizens’ tongues really began to wag and the rumour mill was out of control.

Later that evening, 1000 residents of Woodstock gathered in the IGA parking lot located in the centre of town, along with Tori’s family and held a candlelight vigil. The family thanked the citizens of Woodstock for their support and help in trying to find Tori.

It was now Day 5.  She was only eight years old and my home town was terrified.

Part 2 of a multi-part series.

Click on the link for part 1

 

 

 

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