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Couple charged in Tori Stafford murder

Globe and Mail Update and Canadian Press

Police are searching for the body of eight-year-old Victoria “Tori” Stafford today after two people were arraigned this morning for her abduction and murder.

With “profound sadness and regret,” Oxford Community Police Service Chief Ron Fraser announced on Wednesday afternoon the “exhaustive” investigation has ended in tragedy.

“This is certainly not the end anyone was hoping for,” Chief Fraser said.

“There are no consoling words to offer, or profound words of wisdom, that can make this news easy for anyone to accept or convey. We are left with hundreds of questions that hopefully one day will be answered in our courts of law.”

Michael Thomas Rafferty, 28, of Woodstock, Ont., was arraigned in a Woodstock court on Wednesday morning, charged with abduction and first degree murder of the eight-year-old girl who went missing six weeks ago.

Terri-Lynne McClintic, 18, was charged with abduction and helping Mr. Rafferty escape the area, court documents show

The man and woman were arrested on Tuesday evening and appeared in the Woodstock Provincial Court the next morning. Police said they do not expect to make any further arrests in the case.

The two were remanded in custody and will next appear in court on May 28.

The relationship between the two accused was unclear.

Police said on Wednesday that Ms. McClintic “may be familiar with” Tori's mother Tara McDonald.

Court documents suggest the murder took place on, or around, the day Tori went missing from outside her school, April 8.

Chief Fraser and Detective Inspector Bill Renton said their focus now was on finding Tori's body.

“The most important mission we have yet to accomplish is to reunite Victoria with her loved ones,” Chief Fraser said.

A canine unit is reportedly now being used in the search for Tori's remains in a rural area of Guelph, about an hour east of Woodstock.

On Wednesday morning, Tori's father told media he'd been made aware of the arrests the night before.

Rodney Stafford knew of the court appearance today, but said he couldn't face attending the arraignment.

“I don't know where to go from here,” said Mr. Stafford, who was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Tori that read "Daddy's Little Girl".

He and Ms. McDonald have led a crusade to find their missing daughter since she disappeared on her way home from school, where she was in Grade 3.

Outside the courthouse on Wednesday, the accused man Mr. Rafferty pulled his shirt over his head to cover his face as he was led into the courthouse, and cried during the proceeding.

A group of onlookers yelled at him as he was later led from the courthouse to a waiting police vehicle.

Tori was last seen walking with a woman wearing a white puffy coat, an image captured on a surveillance camera located at an adjacent high school.

On Wednesday afternoon, Det. Insp. Renton declined to comment on the importance of the footage.

“It is one piece of the evidence that has brought us to where we are,” he said. “As the matter's before the court, I cannot speak to that evidence.”

From the day of her disappearance, volunteers lined up to join the search, plastering storefronts, street lamps and car windshields with flyers describing the petite blonde girl with large blue eyes.

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

Her mother, Tara McDonald, began holding daily news conferences outside her home to keep the story in the media spotlight.

Chief Fraser defended the decision not to issue an amber alert on the day Tori went missing.

“Right from the beginning, the criteria of Tori's disappearance did not meet the criteria of the amber alert,” he said.

“Having said that, we notified the local media as fast as we could. The amber alert would not have made a difference.”

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