Everyone a suspect in missing girl search

Tara McDonald addresses hundreds of people who came to a candlelight vigil in Woodstock for her daughter, Victoria Stafford. The 8-year-old known as Tori has been missing since Wednesday.
WOODSTOCK, Ont.–Investigators say they are looking at everyone who knows or had contact with a missing Woodstock girl as a potential suspect in her disappearance.

And they’ve called in the OPP’s behavioural sciences unit to help analyze a grainy surveillance video that shows 8-year-old Victoria Stafford walking off hand-in-hand with an unidentified woman after she left Oliver Stephens Public School here around 3:40 p.m. last Wednesday.

“We have assistance from OPP behavioural scientists, so what we’re trying to do is get some insight into what type of person may be involved,” Oxford Community Police Const. Laurie-Anne Maitland said yesterday.

And, Maitland warned, investigators are probing all of Victoria’s relationships as they continue the intense hunt for the woman seen leading her away.

“I don’t know that anyone’s been ruled out,” she said yesterday.

Victoria, who was the subject of a candlelight vigil in this quiet farming community 145 kilometres southwest of Toronto last night, wasn’t struggling as she walked off with the woman, something that gives her father, Rodney Stafford, immense comfort.

“That video gives me a little bit of relief, in a sense,” said Stafford, who doesn’t believe any relatives of his daughter, known to friends as Tori, are involved in her disappearance.

“Seeing her in the video, walking away happy with somebody she (apparently) knows, kind of makes me feel she’s safe. She didn’t go away struggling, she wasn’t scared.”

But the same thing that gives Stafford comfort has also aroused the suspicions of police, who say they don’t have enough evidence at this point – despite days of investigation and searching – to declare Victoria’s disappearance the result of foul play.

But there’s room for optimism, Maitland added.

“I continue to be hopeful because of the lack of supporting evidence of foul play,” the officer said. “And I’m thankful that the searches, as of yet … have not been successful.

“We haven’t got anything to prove that she’s absolutely been hurt.”

That belief also spurred on hundreds of searchers yesterday as they continued to scour Woodstock’s streets, parks, ponds, wetlands and the surrounding area for a sign of the missing girl.

They’ve plastered the city with thousands of posters showing Victoria’s smiling face, and have distributed thousands of purple ribbons – her favourite colour – in an effort to spread word of her disappearance far and wide.

Police have so far received more than 260 telephone tips, Maitland said, and door-to-door canvassing has yielded more.

At last night’s vigil some 400 supporters thronged a Zeller’s parking lot in downtown Woodstock, holding lit candles aloft as Victoria’s mother spoke of her grief and hope.

“Nobody can begin to imagine what our family is going through,” Tara McDonald said, dread in her eyes and clinging tightly to the arms of her 10-year-old son Daryn.

“I know in my heart that she’s okay, and that we’re going to find her, it’s just a matter of time,” said McDonald.

“Wherever she is, if she could find a phone, a window – anyway that she can get back to us.”

Both the search and the police investigation will resume today.

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