WOODSTOCK, Ont. — The mysterious disappearance of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford was upgraded to an abduction Friday from a missing persons case after Ontario Provincial Police took the lead role in the investigation.
The Grade 3 student has not been seen since leaving her school in Woodstock, Ont., with an unidentified woman on April 8, and Oxford Community Police say they have asked the OPP to direct the investigation.
Provincial police Det.-Insp. Bill Renton, who is now spearheading the case, said investigators have “analyzed the evidence and we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an abduction.”
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He wouldn’t be specific about what evidence had led him to that conclusion.
“To try and articulate to you now the evidence that has taken us there would certainly hamper the integrity of the investigation and any subsequent action we might take,” Renton said.
On Wednesday, the girl’s mother, Tara McDonald, lashed out at police for not handling Tori’s disappearance as an abduction. McDonald was to speak publicly on the case Friday afternoon.
The investigation has so far been focused on the Woodstock area, near London, Ont.
“I think the focus of the evidence is still here in the city of Woodstock,” said Renton, who added he could not rule out the possibility the girl has been taken outside the community.
The only tangible lead police have publicly discussed is the surveillance video showing a woman with long brown hair and a puffy white coat walking with Tori, as she is known to family and friends.
No one has come forward to identify the woman, and her face is not clearly visible in the grainy video.
“We have pretty substantial direction in that regard,” Renton said when asked about a possible identity, but added “to go public with any sort of comment would be a hindrance.”
“We’re looking at some leads and we’re going through that whole video again.”
Police have said it appears as though the girl is willingly walking away with the woman, and Renton said there’s been no change in that assessment.
“I think if you look at the video, it certainly appears that Victoria was walking willingly.”
Oxford police had said since they had no definitive evidence Tori was taken against her will or had been harmed, they would not go farther than calling it a missing persons case.
At the outset of the investigation, Oxford police said they did not have the resources to co-ordinate a large-scale ground search, and police forces from surrounding areas were called in to assist, including provincial police.
The Oxford force has had access to provincial police resources all along, and taking the lead in the investigation does not mean more resources are being put into the effort, Renton said.
“This will have no bearing on how we deploy our resources or change the focus of the investigation,” he said.