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No trace of Victoria Stafford wears family thin as community rallies

WOODSTOCK, Ont. - As police stepped up efforts over the weekend to solve the high-profile suspected abduction of an eight-year-old girl, stress lines deepened among family and friends of the child everyone knows as Tori despite an outpouring of community support.

WOODSTOCK, Ont. - As police stepped up efforts over the weekend to solve the high-profile suspected abduction of an eight-year-old girl, stress lines deepened among family and friends of the child everyone knows as Tori despite an outpouring of community support.

Nearly a fortnight has passed since Victoria Stafford vanished after the school bell signalled home time on April 8.

"Everybody's starting to crack," Rodney Stafford, the girl's father, said over the weekend.

"It's getting harder for everybody on both sides of Tori's family."

Coping with the baffling disappearance has been eased somewhat by "the kindness of strangers," said Tori's aunt, Rebecca Stafford.

Hardly a day has gone by without the aching southwestern Ontario community that raised the girl reaching out in hopes lost will turn to found.

From Day 1, volunteers poured in to join an around-the-clock ground search, plastering storefronts, street lamps and car windshields with flyers describing the petit blond girl with humongous blue eyes.

So far, the single strand of a clue released by police for the public to grasp onto is video capturing the young girl in the company of a mystery woman around the time she disappeared.

"It's starting to get more and more frustrating," said Stafford, for whom sleep has become nearly impossible.

"I'm starting to get really upset because I know for a fact there's somebody out there that's just not saying something."

Although he and Tori's mom, Tara McDonald are separated, the families have converged in Woodstock to help in the search and offer one another comfort.

While nothing new or significant has turned up since provincial police took control of the investigation on Friday, police renewed what they called an "intensified" search over the weekend.

Const. Laurie-Anne Maitland, spokewoman for Oxford Community Police, said police also had received more than 1,000 tips and officers were sifting through them one at a time.

So far, none has led to the identification of a woman with long brown hair wearing a puffy white coat captured in the surveillance video.

Near a pond being searched by sonar, Shirley Armstrong said it had come to a point where she hoped something - anything - was found.

"We need closure, one way or another," she said.

The impact on the community has been evident.

On Easter Sunday, more than 1,000 people attended a candlelight vigil.

A week after Tori went missing, others filled scores of purple balloons - her favourite colour - with helium and inserted information scrolls inside, releasing them into the sky at a popular park.

On Saturday, three women who had never met the family organized a "Walk for Tori" that saw dozens silently walk the track behind the high school where the video surveillance was shot.

One woman arrived in a large white cube van embossed with giant colour photos of Tori.

A woman who said she grew up with McDonald presented family members with freshly-pressed T-shirts sporting the girl's face meant to be "walking posters."

Funds from T-shirt sales will go to a trust fund being set up by Tori's parents.

"I love (McDonald) dearly and it kills me," said Rosalynn Knecht, 33, as she started to cry. "I can't handle her going through this."

Family members are also planning a motorcycle rally on May 2 called "Tori's Ride Home."

As police in bright vests scoured waterways and dusty fields over the weekend, some residents questioned why police initially called off their ground search five days after Tori disappeared.

"It's almost like they just gave up," said Shanon Scurr.

"It's like they said, 'It's been so long, there's no hope'."

 
 
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