Tori's family to mark anniversary of disappearance

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The death of his daughter and the season of rebirth provide a poignant mixture for Rodney Stafford.

"Easter was very big. She was a kid and it involved free candy," Stafford said with a chuckle remembering his daughter, Victoria. "She was a part of a few different things at the church with her Nana. It was a big deal for her."

Easter Sunday this year falls on April 8, a date Rodney Stafford and the rest of Victoria’s family will always remember. It marks the third anniversary of the day the eight-year-old Woodstock, Ont., girl disappeared while walking home from school.

One person pleaded guilty to her murder. The second is on trial in London now, and it’s only a matter of calendar luck that evidence of the crime will not spill out in a courtroom on such a hard day for family.

Three years later, it gets no easier for the family marking Easter without her.

"Tori’s gone. Each year we’re going to have to spend our Easter with her out at the cemetery," Stafford said outside court last week. "There’s no difference … whether it’s this year, next year or a couple of years from now, we’re still going to have to do Easter without her."

This Sunday, Stafford said, he’ll probably gather with the rest of his family — Tori’s grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins. He’ll go to the cemetery and maybe place a few Easter eggs and "make Tori a part of everything."

Stafford has tried to use his daughter’s death as a way to build awareness about child abduction.

"The gruesome details of what happened that day are terrifying, but people need to know it in order to understand," he said.

The trial has drawn almost as much media attention as the original disappearance. Tori, it seems, cannot be forgotten.

"She was the perfect definition of childhood innocence," Stafford said. "She was eight-years-old, little, blond-haired, blue-eyed, very loveable, very caring.

“She was a little tomboy but at the same time she could be a little girl, a little diva. There are just so many different things about her that people have come to adore."

Images of Tori have again filled media this spring as they did three years ago.

Some photographs — the one with the sunglasses on top of her head used in missing posters, or the one with the butterfly hairpiece, for example — have become iconic.

In each, Tori has the same bright eyes and wide grin.

Three years after she died, Tori offers the hope, just as Easter and spring always do, that death will not prevail as long as love remains.

"Three years later, what sticks with me most about Victoria was the fact that she was so energetic. She had an amazing smile," Stafford said. "She’s gone now, but she is living on."