OPP confirm they have found Victoria Stafford
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, July 21, 2009 12:14PM EDT
Police have confirmed that the remains of a young child found on the weekend are those of Victoria Stafford, an eight-year-old girl who went missing several months ago.
The lead detective in the case, Ontario Provincial Police Det. Insp. William Renton, made the announcement at a news conference Tuesday morning, a day after the remains were transported to a Toronto forensics centre for identification.
Forensic experts used dental records to confirm the child's identity.
The remains were found Sunday in a rural, wooded area near the town of Mount Forest, Ont. in Wellington North Township three and a half months after the child disappeared from her Woodstock, Ont. hometown.
Victoria, known as "Tori" to her family and friends, was last seen alive on April 8. A surveillance camera near her school captured the girl walking with an unknown female.
Woodstock Mayor Michael Harding said his community is in mourning despite a strong sense of relief that Victoria has finally been found.
"It's difficult to talk about a child who a few days ago would have had her ninth birthday," he told reporters.
On May 20, before police had begun a search for the child's body, authorities arrested 28-year-old Michael Rafferty and 18-year-old Terri-Lynne McClintic.
The suspects have both been charged with first-degree murder and abduction. They remain in police custody.
McClintic had reportedly given police clues as to where Victoria's body was abandoned. For more than a month police had been searching farmland in Fergus, Ont. particularly focusing on land next to rock piles.
Victoria's body was found Sunday afternoon beside a large rock pile in a wooded, isolated rural area by an OPP criminal profiler who was part of a team looking into the child's murder.
"Certainly when I discovered what I found, I was a little bit startled but at that point on we just moved into investigative mode and started to process the scene," said Sgt. Jim Smyth.
The remains had been exposed to the environment for "quite some time," police said.
Renton said further examination on the remains is required before authorities can determine a cause of death. The remains will be held at the coroner's office as officials try to extract evidence from the child's body.
"This has been extremely difficult," he said. "We're happy that we have that closure. That last piece has been accomplished."
He said the next step is preparing for trial.
Interim Oxford Community Police Chief Rod Freeman said the Woodstock community has gone through a "terrible, terrible experience" in the last few months.
"We hope that returning Victoria to her family will bring some sort of relief," he said.
Victoria's family has not publicly commented since police confirmed their findings. A note on the front door of Victoria's mother's home asked the media for privacy.
"Please respect my family's wishes today and give us peace and time to process everything that is happening," Tara McDonald said in the note. "I will contact the media if I wish to speak to anyone. Please do not knock on the door."
Victoria's father Rodney Stafford was seen visiting McDonald for about 15 minutes. He told reporters on his way out that his ex-wife was having a "very difficult time" with the news.
Earlier Tuesday morning, before police confirmed that they had indeed found Victoria, Elliot Ferguson, of the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, said the child's family is feeling conflicted about the latest developments in the investigation.
"I think it's sort of a mixed bag for the family. On one hand if these remains turn out to be those of Tori they will finally get the closure they are looking for," Ferguson told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday.
"But at the same time the family was holding out that little sliver of hope that she would be found alive."
On Monday, Tori's father Rodney Stafford said although it is not the ending his family was hoping for, their thoughts can now be put to rest.
"No one wants to believe their child has been murdered," he said.
"If it is her, at least I don't have to continue being out and about looking. Up until last night I was still doing it," he said. "You can't help but think, 'is that her just up ahead? Is that her voice in the background?' You can't help it."
Mayor Harding said Tuesday that Victoria's story is a reminder to parents to keep a watchful eye on their children but not be fearful moving forward.
"I know we're probably looking at our kids in a different light but we can not give our lives over to fear," he said. "This has caused us to maybe second guess if our kids are safe."
With files from CTV Toronto's John Musselman