Canine teams scour riverbanks in search for missing Ontario girl


Last Updated: Friday, April 10, 2009 | 2:33 PM ET Comments63Recommend96
CBC News

Tori Stafford was last seen leaving her school on Wednesday afternoon.Tori Stafford was last seen leaving her school on Wednesday afternoon. (Oxford Community Police)

Police in southwestern Ontario continued the search for a missing eight-year-old girl on Friday, with canine teams moving their focus to riverbanks and marshes in the region.

Victoria Stafford, known to her family as Tori, was last seen leaving Oliver Stephens Public School in Woodstock, Ont., on Wednesday at about 3:40 p.m., but never made it home.

"This is something that no parent, ever on earth, should ever, ever have to go through," said Barb Murray, a neighbour of the Stafford family.

Oxford Community Police Const. Laurie-Anne Maitland told CBC News on Friday there was still no evidence that Tori had been abducted but police are not ruling out foul play.

"We’re hoping for a positive outcome," Maitland said. "Everybody is … really gathering and rallying around the community to help out any way they can."

The canine search teams expanded their search on Friday afternoon away from the school to area riverbanks and marshes.

"It’s always very important to find a lost child no matter where they are," said David Dyck, an official with the canine unit. "It’s very important for the community. It’s something that really needs to happen."

Family offers reward

Hundreds of volunteers, including families from Tori’s school, fanned across Woodstock on Thursday night to hand out flyers with a picture of the missing girl. The city of about 35,000 is 45 kilometres east of London, Ont.

The family is offering a $10,000 reward for the safe return of their daughter.

"We just want her home, no questions asked," the girl’s mother, Tara Mcdonald, told local television stations on Thursday night. "We just want her home safely and we just want this to be over and done with. We don’t need to know a reason — we’ve racked our brains. We don’t have any idea why anybody would do this."

Tori’s father, James Goris, added: "We just need the baby home, as soon as possible. And we do thank everybody for everything they’ve done."

Tori’s aunt told CBC News that the family wasn’t planning to comment further to the media on Friday.

More than 100 tips have been called in to police regarding Tori’s disappearance. Maitland said the tips were continuing to come in Friday and two officers have been assigned to handle the calls.

Oxford Community Police have released video surveillance footage from a nearby high school on College Avenue from the day Tori disappeared while walking the about one block to the home she shares with her mother and brother.

Video released

The video shows a girl who has been identified as Tori, walking with a female adult.

Maitland said the adult in the video is a "person of interest" and police would like to speak with her.

The woman is described by police as 19 to 25 years old, about five feet two inches tall, 125 pounds, with long black hair and wearing a puffy, white winter jacket and tight black jeans.

"The surveillance has shown us that at this point there’s no struggle," Maitland said. Because there is no evidence of a struggle or an abduction, an Amber Alert has not been issued.

"We’re just taking it step-by-step with what we can do," Maitland said. "We have every available resource working on Victoria’s disappearance and intend to continue to do that."

Widespread search

About 40 officers from the Oxford, Waterloo Region, London and provincial police forces are involved in the search and have interviewed residents and gone on door-to-door canvasses.

A specialized search-and-rescue team from London, a canine unit and an Ontario Provincial Police helicopter are also participating in the search.

Tori is four feet five inches tall with blue eyes and blond hair cut below the ears.

She was last seen wearing a black Hannah Montana jacket with a white fur hood, a green Hannah Montana T-shirt, a black velvet pleated skirt, black tights and black-and-white plaid shoes. She had a black headband in her hair, was wearing butterfly earrings and was carrying a purple Bratz bag.

A Facebook page has been set up seeking information and support in the search.

Anyone with information can call police at (519) 537-2323 or contact Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS.


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