Bringing the focus back to what counts: little Tori Stafford


From Saturday's Globe and Mail

May 2, 2009 at 3:23 AM EDT

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 a point.

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 Nanna.

“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 mother's.

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 fun.”

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 set.





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.