Crimes Against Children

Victoria Tori Stafford

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Eight-year-old Victoria “Tori” Stafford, who police say has been missing from her Woodstock home since the afternoon of Apr. 8, 2009.

Photograph by: Handout/Oxford Community Police Service,

WOODSTOCK, Ont. -- Police have received dozens of tips but have not found a little girl whose disappearance while walking home from school last Wednesday has people in this small Ontario city on edge.

Parents in Woodstock, southwest of Toronto, were keeping their children extra close Monday, saying they feel uneasy knowing Victoria Stafford, 8, is still missing.

“It’s devastating,” said Julie Levine whose children go to the same school as Tori, as the little girl is called. “It’s one thing to know if something has happened to her, but to not know where she is is the hardest thing.”

Her son, Ethan, 6, said the disappearance is making him sad.

“It’s scary,” he said.

Shopping with her three grandchildren, Lynn Swan said she is anxiously awaiting any news.

“We’re all looking over our shoulder a little more,” Swan said. “I still don’t believe this happened here.”

A communications spokesman with the Oxford Police said investigators received dozens of tips overnight but still have not been able to locate the little girl.

“Nothing has changed from yesterday (Sunday). We’re continuing on with extensive ground searches in Woodstock and the surrounding area today,” said Jason Green.

On Sunday night, Tori’s mother made a tearful appeal for her daughter to contact her family.

“Anywhere, anyway that she can get back to us, if she can call or get away, find a way to come home,” said Tara McDonald, who left a message on her phone Monday thanking people for their support and to request her line be kept open for emergency calls.

Hundreds of people gathered to hold a vigil Sunday for Stafford, last seen Wednesday afternoon when she was supposed to walk home from school in Woodstock, 145 kilometres southwest of Toronto.

Fuzzy surveillance video has shown Stafford walking without a struggle with an unidentified woman just before she disappeared.

But even as hundreds of flyers adorned with her smiling face have been plastered all over this small Ontario city, police still have little to go on.

“I’ve got all the help I need, but it just still seems like, it’s not enough, because she is not in my arms,” her dad, Rodney Stafford, said Sunday.

Fear is blooming in the small town where it appears the little girl has simply vanished, without a trace.

“You don’t know how safe your children are,” said Jen Welsh, a neighbour. “I’ve been following it on the news and Facebook — you know I’m a parent — I couldn’t imagine my kids not coming home.”

A former police officer who investigated cases of missing children, Dave Perry, says police have to be careful of what they reveal and when, adding behind the scenes detectives are extremely busy.

“We typically start within the family and work our way out —that’s standard procedure,” Perry said.

He said that in addition to ruling the family out, investigators would be trying to locate the person seen on the security video, in hopes of finding a witness.

In the meantime, Rodney Stafford says the long days of not knowing are taking their toll, but adds he’s comforted by the support of others.

“People from as far as British Columbia so far, they have flown down because their family lives here and they are concerned about their family,” he said.

The Oxford Community police said Saturday there have been an “overwhelming amount of tips” from the public since Tori went missing.

Oxford police said no other information on the search — which also includes a canine search team — or potential leads on the woman in the video could be released.

The surveillance-camera footage from a local high school surfaced Thursday, showing what police say was the child and an unidentified woman, shortly after she left school Wednesday.

Police have asked for the woman — described as between 19 and 25, white, five-foot-two and about 125 pounds with a black ponytail — to come forward.

Although police do not suspect foul play, they have not ruled it out.

The family says Rodney has been working non-stop to find his little girl since her disappearance and has vowed not to sleep until she is found.

The girl’s grandparents have offered a $10,000 reward for her safe return.

With files from Global News

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