Friday, April 17, 2009

Tori case now an abduction, OPP say

WOODSTOCK–Ontario Provincial Police are now heading up the investigation into the disappearance of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford and are treating the case as a child abduction.

Oxford Community Police Chief Ron Fraser told a news conference this morning OPP Det. Insp. Bill Renton would become case manager, coordinating efforts of local and provincial police in the investigation.

Renton said the case, which until now was considered a missing person, was now officially an abduction.

Victoria, who is known to friends and family as Tori, disappeared on April 8 after leaving Oliver Stephens Public School, where she is a Grade 3 student.

She was last seen on surveillance video walking away from the school with an as-yet unidentified woman.

Efforts to find the girl have included an extensive air and ground search and a massive poster campaign.

Tori's parents have maintained they do not know the identity of the woman their daughter appeared to willingly walk away with.

Police received hundreds of tips after releasing an enhanced version of the surveillance video, but said many were vague.

The case of the missing girl has caught the attention of America's Most Wanted, the U.S. television program dedicated to tracking down dangerous fugitives and missing children. Victoria's photograph and the story of her disappearance is posted on the TV show's website.

In addition to drawing international media attention, the case has spurred speculation among residents of Woodstock, a town of about 36,000 people located 145 kilometres southwest of Toronto.

Earlier this week, Victoria's mother firmly denied rumours that her daughter was abducted because of a drug debt.

"I don't owe anyone anything," Tara McDonald said. "If there is anyone who says I owe him money, bring him to me here and I'll answer all questions."

McDonald has acknowledged that she and other family members underwent polygraph tests as part of the police investigation.

McDonald had also been critical of local police for treating the case as one of a missing person, rather than an abduction.