WOODSTOCK- - By noon, all of Woodstock knew Tori was dead.

They knew a man and a woman from their own quaint community had been charged with the eight-year-old girl's abduction and murder.

But by day's end -- even after a media conference with the chief of the Oxford County Police and a senior provincial police officer -- the community that worried and wondered and prayed and hoped still had far more questions than answers.

For starters: Where is she?

From early morning yesterday, there were unofficial accounts that a massive police search of fields in the Guelph area were related to Victoria Elizabeth Stafford, who disappeared on her short way home from school exactly six weeks before.

But even as police helicopters flew over the area, officials refused to confirm anything.

Most of what is known about Tori's murder comes from court documents.

Appearing at the Oxford County Courthouse yesterday morning was Michael Thomas Rafferty, 28, of Woodstock. He is charged with abducting Tori and "on or about the 8th day of April" -- the same day Tori went missing -- killing her.

The court papers say he is accused of committing first-degree murder in Woodstock or "elsewhere in the province." Police would confirm to media later that they do not know where the murder took place.

Terri-Lynne McClintic, 18, who lives just blocks from Tori, is charged with abducting her and helping Rafferty escape.

Both were arrested late Tuesday. Police notified Tori's mother, Tara McDonald, and father, Rodney Stafford, in person later that day.

The two accused -- handcuffed and flanked by uniformed police officers -- were shouted at by an angry crowd as they left the courthouse yesterday morning. Rafferty pulled his shirt over his head to obscure his face.

McClintic, wearing glasses with her hair pulled tightly back in cornrows, did not try to hide. Police later said she may be "familiar" with Tori's mother. They would not elaborate.

Police also said one of the accused was already in custody on another matter when they were charged in connection with Tori. And that they do not anticipate making further arrests.

Two blocks from the courthouse, virtually every downtown store front bears a poster of Tori. And virtually every person out in yesterday's sunshine followed each development in the case carefully since the day Tory did not come home from school.

Sipping tea at a cafe, Jason Stefan said he and the children he ministers to as a youth pastor pray for Tori every day. Some of those children are classmates of the missing girl. They talk a great deal about Tori's disappearance, and how God could allow such a thing to happen.

"You kind of wonder with them. I'm asking the same questions."

Only a few moments after saying this, news came that Tori is now considered a homicide victim.

Stefan, the father of a small girl, worked to compose himself.

"I feel really sad for the family," he mustered.

In front of Tori's modest home is a gorgeous purple lilac in full bloom. Hanging from it are two large, gossamer butterfly ornaments. One woman among a stream of visitors to the home stopped to smell its flowers. Others are quickly ushered in the front door, more go to the back yard. Two weeping women simply place a bouquet on the steps then leave.

Tori's family spent much of the day in their house and did not speak publicly.

Nearby at Oliver Stephens Public School, where Tori was in Grade 3, students were told their classmate is dead.

"We've basically been saying to the children that ... one person has been charged with murder. That Tori won't be coming back to school," said education director Bill Tucker.

The principal and the Thames Valley school board's Traumatic Events Response Team made the announcement in each classroom, Tucker said. The team has been at the school for 43 days.

Tucker was asked if the board will examine policies regarding students walking home from school. He refused to discuss the issue.

Police held their news conference at a community centre. For a community desperate for information, there were few answers.

Oxford police and then the OPP have already been publicly criticized for mishandling the case. For days after Tori disappeared, she was classified simply as a missing person and not a kidnapping victim. And the province's Amber Alert system wasn't activated because, as Oxford Chief Ron Fraser reiterated yesterday, her case "didn't meet the criteria."

Fraser and OPP Detective Inspector William Renton refused to say how or when Tori was killed. Or if she was sexually assaulted. Or even how they know she is dead, since her body has not been found. They would not say when they first became aware of the suspects, or if they had been canvassed in earlier police sweeps of Woodstock. Or if they have confessed.

They would not comment on the connection between the arrests and a well-publicized videotape of a woman apparently walking away from the school with Tori.

"This is certainly not the end anybody was hoping for," Fraser said. "There are no consoling words to offer.... We are left with hundreds of questions that will hopefully one day be answered in our courts of law."

Susan Clairmont's commentary appears regularly in The Spectator.

sclairmont@thespec.com

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