Victoria Stafford's family reacts to news of her murder
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, May 20, 2009 7:12PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 10:56PM EDT
WOODSTOCK, Ont. - Victoria Stafford's father says news of the girl's murder is hitting her 11-year-old brother hard.
Rodney Stafford says the boy's first reaction was to ask: "I don't get to see her anymore?"
The six-week search for the eight-year-old girl, known as Tori, turned into a grim recovery effort today after a man was charged with her murder and a woman as an accessory.
Stafford says the family is helping Tori's brother Daryn cope by keeping him occupied with activities such as paintball.
Police say they will not stop until they locate Tori's "resting place" and bring her home to her family.
Ontario Provincial Police Det.-Insp. William Renton says it's important the Grade 3 student's body be returned to her parents now that the abduction case has led to a murder charge.
"Our work is far from over, and we'll not stop until we're able to locate the whereabouts of Victoria Stafford," Renton said.
"Albeit not the way we ever wanted to find Tori, I can't stress the importance and significance of returning her to her loved ones."
Although Renton would not say where that search would lead them, recovery efforts were apparently underway in a rural area outside Guelph known as Rockwood, about an hour east of Woodstock.
A police helicopter spent the afternoon criss-crossing a region marked with farmers' fields, ponds and wooded areas.
The pretty, outgoing girl went missing April 8 outside her school, and a surveillance tape showed her being led away by a woman in a white puffy coat.
Community and volunteer efforts to find the girl were extensive, but court documents suggest the efforts were futile; the murder took place on or around the day she went missing.
Michael Thomas Rafferty, 28, has been arraigned on a first-degree murder charge and abducting a child under 16.
Terri-Lynne McClintic, 18, is charged with abduction, being an accessory and helping Rafferty elude authorities.
Renton said there may be a link between McClintic and Tori's mother Tara McDonald, but he wouldn't say how the two know each other.
Rodney Stafford said it was his understanding that the two women knew each other through a desire to breed dogs.
Police said they did not anticipate laying any further charges in the case.
Oxford Community Police Chief Ron Fraser said he had no words of comfort.
"This is certainly not the end that anyone was hoping for," he said.
"There are no consoling words to offer or profound words of wisdom that can make this news easy for anyone to accept."
Fraser and Renton said they couldn't speak to what would have motivated anyone to kill the girl.
Fraser said he hoped the courts would be able to answer the hundreds of questions still remaining, including "why someone would take the life of a beautiful young lady."
The developments were clearly devastating to Tori's father Rodney Stafford.
"I don't know where to go from here," said Stafford, who was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Tori that read "Daddy's Little Girl."
Rafferty pulled his shirt over his head to cover his face as he was led into the courthouse. He cried during the proceeding, while McClintic, a stocky brunette whose hair was tied in cornrows for her court appearance, was more stoic.
As Rafferty was led by police from the courthouse after his appearance, Tori's uncle Rob Stafford approached him and angrily spat out an expletive.
Rafferty and McClintic next appear in court May 28.
The relationship between the two accused was unclear, and police would not elaborate.
From Day 1, volunteers lined up to join the search, plastering storefronts, street lamps and car windshields with flyers describing the petite young girl with golden hair and big blue eyes.
Tori's mother began holding daily news conferences to keep the story in the media spotlight and, on a number of occasions, vigorously denied rumours swirling in the community, including one that her daughter was kidnapped over a drug debt.
At one point McDonald was confronted with the allegation that she looked like the woman in a composite sketch released by police -- a suggestion she called laughable.
Police remained tight-lipped about the investigation, but McDonald's daily briefings revealed a number of strange twists in the case: McDonald accepted a ride in a limousine to meet a mysterious benefactor in a Toronto hotel who offered to pay any ransom demand, and the family also sought the help of a psychic.
Family members, including McDonald and Stafford, also spoke openly about having taken lie-detector tests.
The media spotlight also put McDonald's personal struggles on full display, including her addiction to the narcotic OxyContin, which she said she's receiving treatment for.
At Oliver Stephens Public School, where Tori was a student, the principal and a team of trauma counsellors delivered the tragic news to students class by class Wednesday morning.
A letter was also sent home to parents, and they were invited to take their children home if they desired.
"Everyone's very upset," said Bill Tucker, director of education for the Thames Valley District School Board, adding counsellors will remain at the school as long as necessary.
"As a school, both staff and students, we've just been rocked to the core of our very being with this."
Reached at a home in Woodstock, a woman who identified herself as McClintic's grandmother sobbed as she said she was estranged from the woman's mother Carol and her grandchildren.
"(Carol) was a stripper and she knew the wrong people and she wasn't treating Terri-Lynne right."
She said she felt "just horrible" about the arrests.
"It's breaking my heart."
Rafferty's neighbours said he either lived with his mother or his parents. People in the surrounding houses didn't know them well, with most saying they kept to themselves.
Aaron Mabey, 20, lives next door and said he saw several police officers outside the house Tuesday night around 11 p.m.
He helped search for Tori in the early days of her disappearance, and said it made him feel physically ill to know the suspect lived right next door.
"When I was told, I just felt so sick."
Jen Burchat, who lives a few doors down from the Rafferty house, said she was shaken because she let her children play outside the home.
"(I'm) shocked that it could happen so close to home," said Burchat, a mother of four who runs a daycare out of her home.
Police sources tell CP24 that the girl's abduction has been allegedly viewed as an "opportunistic crime" and was not a random act. They also say the child may have allegedly been sought for "nefarious" purposes.
CP24's Sue Sgambati reports that police are being assisted by the female suspect and took her up in the OPP helicopter Wednesday evening to assist in the search for the remains.