Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TORONTO — Eight days after Woodstock, Ont., youngster Victoria "Tori" Stafford vanished while walking home from school in the company of a mystery woman, police continue to keep their investigation close to the vest and the family remains steadfast in their belief the missing eight-year-old will be found safe.

"She could be anywhere," Tori's aunt, Rebecca Stafford said Wednesday. "I have so many feelings, I can't narrow it down. There are too many possibilities. The only thing that I feel in my heart is that she is OK and we are going to get her back."

A ground search for the Grade 3 student was called off Monday, but police continue to canvass her neighbourhood and follow up on the 500 tips they have received.

Tori's father Rodney Stafford, Tori's mother Tara McDonald and James Goris, McDonald's boyfriend, took lie-detector tests last weekend, McDonald has confirmed.

Stafford and McDonald are estranged.

Mark Mendelson, a former Toronto homicide detective said it's not surprising polygraph tests were conducted because in any investigation "you start at home and work your way out."

More than 60,500 children were reported missing in 2007. Runaways made up 76 per cent of cases and most were found within days.

There were 285 parental abductions reported and 56 children were considered kidnapped by a stranger, classified as anyone besides the custodial guardian such as a grandmother or family friend, said Barbara Snider, of the Missing Children Society of Canada.

While stranger abductions are relatively rare, they cause the greatest anxiety for parents, Snider said noting the first 72 hours are critical in any investigation.

"Parental abductions are more common but receive much less attention," she said highlighting the case of Ashley Tara Bravo Gonis.

The girl, 10, was found in Vancouver last week after allegedly being abducted by her mother in Montreal two years ago.

Still, there are the cases with no answers.

Tamra Jewel Keepness, 5, disappeared from her Regina home in 2004.

Michael Dunahee was four years old when he disappeared from a Victoria playground on March 24, 1991.

Earlier this week, the family of Cedrika Provencher, a nine-year-old who disappeared in Trois-Rivieres, Que. on July 31, 2007, offered words of encouragement to the Stafford family adding they should not lose hope.

Investigations involving children touch a nerve for officers, said Mendelson. He worked on the case of Kayla Klaudusz, the three-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted and murdered after being taken from her apartment in 1991 by a man who lived in the same building.

"It's always tougher with kids because they are innocent," he said. "Tori didn't do anything here to instigate this. It's pure innocence and that is always difficult to deal with."

Tori was last seen on a blurred surveillance video walking without a struggle with an unidentified woman just before she went missing after classes were let out last Wednesday.

Her disappearance has gripped the small city of Woodstock, which is awash in speculation.

McDonald and boyfriend Goris sought to quash some of the talk Wednesday as they dismissed rumours Tori's disappearance was linked to a drug debt.

"It's not true. We don't owe people money and there is no reason for anyone to steal our girl," Goris said.

McDonald said the community should be focused on finding her daughter not rumours.

"Concentrate on finding my daughter. Don't concentrate on the bull crap," McDonald said.

Rebecca Stafford said the family is focused on getting the word out about Tori and has been overwhelmed by the number of messages posted on Facebook.

Tori's paternal grandmother, Doreen Graichen, said the lack of information has been trying.

"It's getting harder and harder every day," said Graichen.

Woodstock is 145 kilometres west of Toronto.

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