NEWS

Woodstock 'more fearful' after Stafford's death

03/15/2012 09:10 EDT | Updated 05/15/2012 05:12 EDT

The man who was mayor of Woodstock, Ont., at the time of Victoria (Tori) Stafford's death says the small city where she was abducted has become a less innocent, more fearful place.

"I can still recall the pictures as this community..." Michael Harding said Thursday, trailing off as he struggled not to choke up. "It's so sad, this senseless, pointless act."

Woodstock, a city of about 38,000, boasts on its website of tree-lined streets, century-old homes, abundant parkland and friendly citizens. But after almost two weeks of testimony in the trial of Michael Rafferty, charged in the death of eight-year-old Stafford, people in the community are struggling with darker thoughts.

"We've lost a bit of our innocence, we're probably a little more fearful now," Harding said. "Of course what's happened is every parent's nightmare."

The community has been stunned by the testimony of Terri-Lynne McClintic, who is already serving a life sentence for Stafford's first-degree murder. She has detailed how Rafferty allegedly had McClintic lure Stafford so that he could sexually assault the girl. Rafferty has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Harding said the most hurtful moment for him was hearing McClintic testify that she helped hand out missing-person flyers during the search for Stafford.

City still reeling, residents say

Nearly three years after Stafford's disappearance, Woodstock residents told CBC reporter Steven D'Souza that the city hasn't yet recovered, with people more guarded and less trusting.

Lisa Shewbridge, who was out walking her dog, said everybody is on edge.

"My friend's school called the other day and thought her daughter was missing, and we were hysterical within two seconds, till they found her," she said.

Retired teacher Brian Sage said the most difficult part for him has been trying to explain the trial to his eight-year-old grandson.

"I told him the basic thing, but I'm not going to go into details about it," Sage said.

Local resident Jason Sykes said the trial is all anybody talks about.

"You go home and you hug your kid. You're glad they're right there with you every day," Sykes said. "How could a kid go through that?"

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