LONDON, Ont. — Five years after their beloved tomboy princess went missing, the family of Victoria "Tori" Stafford still struggles with the pain and the prospect of another trial.
But they’re also showing signs of growing strength in their personal lives and remain strong in a conviction to keep alive the memory of the slain Woodstock, Ont., school girl, as well as the lessons of her disappearance.
"People keep asking us if we’re ever going to be able to forgive them (the killers), because we’re not going to move on until they’re forgiven," Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, said.
"I just can’t see it happening. Ever. How do you forgive two people who destroyed your life on a whim?"
On April 8, 2009, Tori — a spunky eight-year-old, who loved dresses and makeup as much as mucking about outdoors — disappeared while walking home from her school in Woodstock.
A surveillance video from a nearby high school, released the next day by police, showed her walking up the street with an unknown woman.
Surveillance video shows Terri-Lynne McClintic leading Tori Stafford to the car. (HANDOUT)
That video was among the factors that fuelled an explosion of media coverage and interest across Canada. The OPP took over the investigation from the Woodstock force, criticized for its handling of the case, and launched the biggest search in the provincial force’s history.
The police and members of the public focused their suspicion on Tori’s mother, and the family’s struggles took centre stage in the media and on the Internet.
The hopes of thousands were crushed with the arrest of two people for the girl’s murder in May 2009. Tori’s body was found in a remote woods on a farmer’s property near Mount Forest, Ont. in July.
She’d been killed with a hammer and her body disposed of in garbage bags under a pile of rocks.
Terri-Lynne McClintic, the woman seen in the surveillance video, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in April 2010. Her ex-boyfriend, Michael Rafferty, was found guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in May 2012, but is appealing his conviction with taxpayers footing his legal bills.
As the fifth anniversary of Tori’s disappearance approaches family members spoke to QMI Agency about their memories, hopes and struggles.
Rodney Stafford, father of murder victim Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford, stands outside his apartment in Woodstock on Friday June 7, 2013. (CRAIG GLOVER/QMI AGENCY FILE PHOTO)
"Since Rafferty’s trial, every time he comes back to court I get more and more enraged. We are all forced to re-live the horrific events from that day," Tori’s father, Rodney Stafford, said.
The sight of workers using hammers or seeing the same kind of car that Rafferty used to kidnap his daughter can send him into an emotional tailspin, Stafford said.
But he wants to keep his daughter’s memory alive so that other parents remember that evil can happen to anyone. He’d also like to see the death penalty for child killers.
His mother, Doreen Graichen, agrees.
"I would like to do my best to get Canadians to wise up. To me, you take a life, you lose a life."
Graichen said her family has been torn apart by her granddaughter’s death, with some members estranged from each other.
"It has changed everyone I know that was close to Tori," she said. "I’ve gone from anger and hatred to grieving and acceptance. The only thing, I worry about — and it’s premature, I know — is the appeal. If by some freak of nature, he (Rafferty) is granted another trial, I hope it takes many, many years and I hope I’m not around anymore because I can’t live through that."
Awhile ago, she "cleansed" her house of the dozens of mementoes people had given her over the years — ribbons, photos, statuettes commemorating Tori. She has kept a few in sight.
"I think it’s just time that we let her rest. It doesn’t mean that we will ever forget her. But when I think of Tori, I want to think of the good times."
Even so, on April 8, "I know that I will relive every moment of that afternoon. I’ll never forget any of it . . . the horrors of that day."
Tara McDonald, Tori Stafford’s mother shows off a new bracelet Friday May 11, 2012 that is made up of images of her daughter in various stages of her young life. (MIKE HENSEN/QMI AGENCY FILE PHOTO)
McDonald said she’s writing a book about her daughter’s life, her disappearance, the investigation and the trial. She’d like people to know just what a family lost that day.
Like other family members, McDonald has a private commemoration planned for April 8. She’ll light some candles and remember.
"You’ll just look at the clock to see what time it is and you will think, ‘Oh, this is what time this was happening’," McDonald said.
"And when the day passes, you’re like, ‘Whew, I made it past one more year. I survived one more year’."
Tori Stafford. (QMI AGENCY FILE/HANDOUT)