No sign of foul play in case of missing Ontario girl
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, April 13, 2009 6:55PM EDT
After an extensive five-day hunt, police in Woodstock, Ont., have completed the ground search for missing eight-year-old girl Victoria Stafford, and say they have found no sign of foul play.
"Our search has been concluded for the time being," Oxford Community Police Const. Laurie-Anne Maitland told CTV Newsnet. "Numerous items that were retrieved have nothing to do with the items Tori was wearing at the time."
She said the ground search "has not located something that would lead us to believe foul play may be a factor," meaning that investigators believe the girl is alive.
Speaking to reporters earlier, Maitland also confirmed that a special Ontario Provincial Police unit has been assigned to the investigation. The unit will focus on creating a profile of the person who may have taken the third grader.
Victoria has been missing since last Wednesday.
So far, the only clue to her whereabouts is a surveillance tape that shows her leaving school, apparently willingly, with an unidentified woman. She has not been seen since.
Even with the video, police are reluctant to call the case an abduction.
"Every indication tells us, and everyone believes this too, that Tori willingly walked away with an unidentified female and we're investigating a missing person's case," Maitland said.
Police say that other than the video, they have little else to go on. Authorities have received more than 300 tips from the public but none of them have resulted in a strong lead.
Victoria's uncle Rob Stafford sent out a message on Facebook, asking whoever may have taken his niece to contact him directly or to arrange a meeting to leave her with him. He promised not to ask any questions.
So far, he's received no replies.
Holding onto hope
Family members of the little girl, who is affectionately known as "Tori", says they have been living "minute by minute," expecting at any time to get a phone call telling them she is safe and is coming home.
Tori's aunt Rebecca Stafford told CTV's Canada AM on Monday that the family is holding onto hope.
"We're doing as well as could be expected," she said, as police and volunteers prepared for a fifth straight day of searching for the girl.
"I keep saying we're on a minute-by-minute basis. We're all expecting the phone to ring any second to tell us Tori's safe and she's coming back."
On Sunday night, close to 1,000 people gathered in the town of Woodstock in southwestern Ontario for a candlelight vigil for the missing girl.
Her father Rodney Stafford said he was humbled by the outpouring of support.
"It's too hard to explain in words. It's crazy. It was something I never thought I would ever see, the community support the way that I did last night. It's just amazing," he told Canada AM.
Woodstock Mayor Michael Harding said the community is pulling together in support of the family.
"We've had hundred of volunteers who have done the ground search, we've had hundreds of people who have given out flyers, putting them on every street post in the city -- I think it has galvanized our response," he told CTV Newsnet Monday afternoon.
At the vigil in the Southwestern Ontario town, Tori's mother Tara McDonald said no one can begin to understand what the family is going through.
During the vigil she wept openly and held her 10-year-old son tightly.
She said she knows her daughter is safe and urged her to try and escape from wherever she is, and make her way home.
Harding called their plight "every family's worst nightmare" but said the community is pulling together. Hundreds of people are helping with a ground search and others are distributing leaflets.
"Everyone wants this child returned safely to the arms of her family," Harding said.
He said "a sense of hope, a sense of optimism" remains in the community, but anxiety is increasing as time goes on.
Tori's father and aunt said they both watched the surveillance video hundreds of times, and are convinced the girl in the grainy footage, seen leaving with an unidentified woman, is Tori.
However, neither recognizes the woman who is with Tori in the video.
With files from The Canadian Press