Missing girl: Investigators under scrutiny
Fri, April 10, 2009
WOODSTOCK — Police searching for an eight-year-old girl missing since Wednesday hope for a breakthrough from a security video that shows an unknown woman walking with Victoria ‘Tori’ StaffordToday, as the story grew in national scope, police came under harsh media glare about why they hadn’t issued an Amber Alert — an emergency appeal to police forces and the public for information — when the girl went missing.
Police said they hadn’t taken that step because they have no evidence of an abduction — one of the strict requirements for an alert. But today they were were calling their efforts a “criminal investigation.”
While police said they had no reason to suspect foul play, they weren’t ruling that out.
“We’re exploring all possible leads,” said Oxford Community Police Const. Laurie-Anne Maitland.
The girl’s family has been “a wreck” since she failed to arrive home from Oliver Stephens public school three days ago, her grandfather said.
“It’s been tough. It’s been very tough — to lose your grandchild, it’s terrible,” Jim McDonald said.
“I haven’t been able to sleep. I haven’t been able to eat. I haven’t been able to do anything,” he said as he arrived at his daughter’s Frances Street house four blocks from the school.
Dozens of police from Oxford, Waterloo Region and London, including dog search teams and trained London search and rescue volunteers, have joined the search and were to resume efforts today.
Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, and step-father James Gorris declined comment today and told friends and family not to speak to reporters.
The couple had made an appeal on London’s A Channel news, pledging a $10,000 reward for their daughter’s safe return, but have largely stayed out of the public eye, closing doors on reporters and asking them to leave their property.
While many Woodstock residents are still offering to help search for the little girl, distributing posters with Tori’s photo and speaking words of support, the family’s silence has fuelled some questions.
“If that was my granddaughter, I’d be on the news everywhere, or in a psychiatric unit,” said longtime city resident Phyllis MacKenzie, 70.
Others raised similar concerns, but most people, including MacKenzie, expressed compassion for the girl’s parents and hope that Tori would soon be found safe.
“I just hope and pray to God that little girl is safe,” said MacKenzie. “I just feel sick about it.”
A security video taken from College Avenue secondary school in Woodstock shows a girl police confirm was Tori walking with an unidentified woman along Fyfe Street.
The video image was the last time the girl was seen.
McDonald agreed with police, saying it was his granddaughter in the video.
The woman is described as white, 19 to 25, five-one (155 cm) to five-two tall, 120-125 pounds (54-57 kgs), with a straight black ponytail past the shoulders. She was wearing tight black jeans and a white, puffy winter jacket.
“This is a small community and it’s not like people usually have 12 different winter coats to wear,” said Maitland.
“Maybe the clothing will catch someone’s attention.”
Police want the woman to come forward. They also ask anyone who thinks they may know her to call them at (519) 537-2323 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
So far, Maitland said, investigators haven’t concluded the girl was abducted.
“I feel very hopeful and optimistic we will find Tori well,” she said. “That’s my feeling.” Stay with lfpress.com for the latest on this developing news story.