Bringing the focus back to what counts: little Tori Stafford
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
When Woodstock mother Tara McDonald made a plea to the media late this week
to remember “the reason why we're standing out here,” as she put it, she had
Three weeks plus and counting since Victoria (Tori) Stafford
vanished as if plucked from the Earth, and, of late, the horror of that
central fact has been forgotten in the unfolding melodrama of the bizarre
Ontario case – in the mysterious alleged benefactor who whisked Ms. McDonald
away in a limousine, the talk of psychics and psychic detectives, the
whirlwind of rumours surrounding the young mother.
Ms. McDonald may have been a party to all these distractions and
sometimes even the driving force, but her little girl is just eight years
old and no matter how benignly she is being treated by her captors – this in
the most gloriously optimistic interpretation of events possible – she must
be worried and bewildered.
Tori Stafford turns nine in July. She's a funny, sassy little blonde,
still so tiny that her maternal grandmother, Linda Winters, can wrap her up
in a purple blanket on her lap to read together in Ms. Winters's favourite
living room chair.
Shortly before Tori disappeared – she was last seen walking with an
unidentified dark-haired woman just blocks from her house, the pair caught on a
surveillance camera at a nearby high school – the little girl had started
calling Ms. Winters “GRAND-ma,” emphasis on the first syllable, as opposed to
“It was so cute,” Ms. Winters remembered this week. “Everything Tori does is
cute … even the little hissy fits, we call them.”
Ms. Winters sees a lot of both Tori and her big brother Daryn, who turned 11
last month. They often overnight with her, and over the course of their young
lives appear to have stayed with her for longer periods; in an interview this
week with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Winters spoke of how, when the children lived
with her, they had to abide “by Nanna's rules, which were different” than their
She and Tori had their special rituals. “Out of the blue one day I just asked
her if she wanted to go to Sunday school,” Ms. Winters said, “and ever since, it
was every Sunday … she'd be dressed before I even got up some days.” She even
had a special, going-to-church dress and shoes.
Daryn was at a more awkward age – too old for Sunday school, not keen on
staying upstairs with the adults for the service – but on Palm Sunday this year,
he came along with his little sister.
With other children in the congregation, they took part in the palm-waving –
the youngsters marching around the church behind the minister, each carrying
palm fronds. Daryn waved his like a maniac, in a big arc; Tori, her grandmother
said, hardly moved hers. “She was looking around, kinda shy, scared, whatever.
Too many people looking at her bugs her.” The palms now sit on Ms. Winters's
dining room table.
There was a routine when the youngsters were with her. Daryn and Tori would
take turns on the laptop, one hopping in the bathtub while the other was on the
computer. “There were times you almost had to, well you dragged her off the
computer,” Ms. Winters said. “I'm telling you, her fingers were attached.”
She recently bought a second laptop, a smaller one, which is now at the
trailer where the family summers, waiting for Tori.
She is a girly-girl, by all accounts, although sometimes a boisterous handful
and never a delicate flower. Street-proofed in the way of modern children, she
once told her grandfather Robert, who died of cancer about 18 months ago, if
anyone tried to hurt her “‘I'd kick him right in the. …' She would, if she
could,” Ms. Winters said, wincing.
She remembered the time that Tori and a cousin emerged from the walk-in
closet in her old apartment, Tori in one of her good outfits, the cousin in the
other. “Do you mind if we have a fashion show?” Tori asked. The two little girls
often had tea parties too, and used Ms. Winters's bone china. “I taught them to
put their little fingers out” when they drank from the cups, she said. “We had
She spoils the kids a little, as grandparents are meant to do. Buying them
new bicycles was something she and her late husband did, and this year, when she
took the kids to the local Wal-Mart to get Daryn a new BMX for his birthday, she
couldn't bring herself to make Tori wait for two months for hers. She got a
Hannah Montana model, replacing last year's Bratz bike, which now goes to the
trailer. She's also hoping to buy Tori a mate's bed, the kind with the drawers
underneath, for her room.
But Ms. Winters was quick to add, “I could entertain her without spending a
dime. One year, for Christmas, something came in a big box, and she gets in this
box, played in it for a long time, Daryn too.” And when Ms. Winters got Mr. Bob,
the little white dog named after her husband, and a crate for the pup, Tori
would crawl into the crate with the little dog.
“She's simple,” her grandmother said.
She was there, coaching her daughter, when Tori was born. “She's a tiger,”
she said. “When she was born, she didn't cry right away … she came in two
pushes, and well, they had to hold her back to get help and she was in distress.
You got a baby held back, three nurses suctioning her, my daughter's having a
bird – she knew something was going on in the background. I'm trying to say to
her, ‘It's okay,' but I'm looking over and thinking, ‘If you don't breathe soon
I'll go over and suction you.”
Then she let out her first cry, and she was fine. “So I believe she's a
fighter,” Ms. Winters said. “There's not enough words for either one of them,
Tori or Daryn.”
Tori Stafford is four-foot-five, 62 pounds, with blue eyes and blond hair cut
below her ears. This is this 24th day of her disappearance. Her grandmother said
she's afraid of the dark and likes to drift off to the light of the television
Christie has almost universal genuine respect, she is not a "Nancy Grace" who
is a typical American example of loud aggressive polarized reporting that is
full of conclusions rather than accurate descriptions of FACTS.
Christie, has told us, with her written words of passion and empathy, what she
observed, its very objective information and remarkably informative, it shows
both sides of the issue, but does so in a way, by describing the facts to let an
intelligent reader , read between the lines and draw their own conclusions.
Christie has a lot in common with other great writers, for example Peter Gregory
of "The Age" in Melbourne whose book was turned into a movie.
Christie does not just write to win a popularity contest, which like Nancy
Grace, she is thinking of a bigger wiser picture that most readers do not and
will not grasp.
Readers need to know that writers with real passion and empathy, like Christie
and Arnold, often omit what a Nancy Grace would not, those omissions, have
reasons, that we must respect and in some cases, those omissions, will not and
cannot ever be published.
There are obviously many people right now who greatly appreciate Christie's
reporting which most probably will have an extremely important bearing on this
story's eventual ending.