WOODSTOCK – Two people have been charged with the abduction and murder of eight-year-old Victoria “Tori” Stafford.
Both made brief court appearances in a Woodstock court this morning to be arraigned on charges relating to the police investigation that started when Stafford was reported missing on April 8.
Teri Lynn McClintic is charged with abducting Stafford from her parents Tara McDonald and Rodney Stafford. She was also read charges of assisting Michael Thomas C. S. Rafferty in escaping the area.
Rafferty was read charges of having abducted Stafford, and then, in Woodstock or elsewhere in Ontario, having murdered her. McClintic was read a third charge of having been an accessory to murder after the fact.
Security at the Oxford County Court House was high for the accused’s first appearance. McClintic was read her charges first, appearing in the basement courtroom dressed all in black with her hair in braids. She remained composed as her charges were read.
Rafferty was visibly upset as he entered the courtroom, exchanging glances with his mother who was seated in the front row. Prior to the arrival of the justice of the peace, Rafferty broke down and began crying.
When he stood to have his charges read and was asked if he understood his charges, he said “yes” through tears.
Both have been remanded in custody for a video appearance in Woodstock court on Thursday May 28. Neither has counsel and their application for legal aid is one of the reasons why the case has been held over.
It was not immediately clear where the two accused live.
The fate of the eight-year-old Woodstock girl is still not known, although there are media reports police are searching for a body in the Guelph area.
A police press conference is scheduled for 3 p.m. today. Police would not comment on the well-being of Tori, but say they will discuss the arrests.
Tori’s father, Rodney Stafford, confirmed last night's arrests in a brief telephone conversation, but said he’s still waiting for more information.
“All I know is that two people were arrested,” said Stafford, adding he was told by police around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. “I’m hoping to get more information later this morning.”
A heavy police presence just one block from the home of Tori Stafford is centred on a house where officers made two arrests Tuesday night.
Neighbours living on Wilson Street told The Free Press they were alarmed by “suspicious activity” at the home and contacted police. They say the arrests were made Tuesday night.
They also said a person resembling the mystery woman in a surveillance video that recorded Tori’s abduction was seen at the home.
The Wilson Street home is four or five blocks from Frances Street, where Tori had moved with her mother, Tara McDonald, and older brother one week before her April 8 abduction.
Two suspects, a man and a woman, were led into the Woodstock courthouse before 9:15 a.m.
CP24, a Toronto all-news television channel reported the arrest of a man and woman known to the girl’s parents.
The station also reported that “police sources” say that the girl's abduction was not a random act but being viewed as an "opportunistic crime" and Tori may have allegedly been sought for "nefarious" or sexual purposes.
A police source told Sun Media that they are following leads in their search for the girl, but are "preparing for the worst."
"It's heart wrenching and sickening," the source said. "It conjures up memories of Cecilia Zhang and Holly Jones."
Zhang, 9, was kidnapped from her Toronto home and killed in October 2003 by a former visa student in a failed attempt to extort enough money to remain in Canada. Ten-year-old
Jones was abducted, raped and killed in May 2003 by a Toronto neighbour.
Tori was last seen on April 8 walking with an unidentified woman along Fyfe Avenue shortly after leaving Oliver Stephens Public School at approximately 3:30 p.m.
Some of Tori’s maternal relatives, who have been unable to reach Tara McDonald this morning, are sounding a positive note as the clock ticks down to the press conference.
“We’re just trying to stay positive and hoping we hear something about Tori,” said Barb Derbowka, Tara’s cousin.
“That’s all that matters to us, that she’s safe.”
Derbowka and her husband are relying on media reports as the case breaks open.
“I’m just leaving (Tara) alone,” said Derbowka, who says the mom’s answering machine picks up any calls. “She’s probably been flooded with calls.”
The best friend of Tori's mother ‹ who faced uncomfortable scrutiny as the search for the abducted girl ground on ‹ is preaching a positive outlook this morning.
Sara Leeper, who bore a striking resemblance to the mystery woman seen abducting little Tori in surveillance footage, defended herself in an exclusive Free Press interview earlier this month ‹ and on Wednesday offered support to her friend Tara McDnald.
“You’ve got to be positive. Stay positive,” Leeper said she told Tori's mom.
In her recent Free Press interview, Leeper lamented the toll the case was taking on her life.
“I like peace in my life. This is absolutely destroying me. You think I will be able to get a job in this town after this?”
OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino said he was impressed in the way detectives from both OPP and Oxford worked together to zero in on the Woodstock suspects.
"We're all elated in one sense but rather distraught and devastated in another way," Fantino said this morning.
It’s the first break in a case that sparked a massive search by police and the public, an outpouring of public sympathy, rumours and accusations and growing frustration for her divorced parents.
Stafford and McDonald presented a unified front for several weeks by speaking together at the joint news conferences.
However, as the weeks went by tension between the two grew as the media focus shifted from the search to rumours about McDonald’s drug addiction, especially on the social networking website, Facebook, a mysterious limousine ride to meet a man in Toronto who promised to pay a ransom, questions about fund-raising efforts and a desire for media attention.