WOODSTOCK, Ont. — Victoria Elizabeth Stafford did not have the easiest life. Her parents split up when she was 2 1/2. Her father admits he wasn’t always around. Her mother admits an addiction to painkillers.
But by all accounts she was a deeply happy and well-adjusted child, surrounded by an enormous amount of love.
Her little body has not been found, but a memorial will be held Saturday to remember a girl those who were central figures in her short life — her father, grandmothers, aunts and uncles — say was a bright spark of life filled with love.
She was a beautiful, sweet baby, but would just not sleep. Full of energy, when Tori the toddler was put down for the night she would keep popping up and peering over the rail of her crib.
Her maternal grandmother’s trick was the scratch her back to get her to sleep. It was a custom Linda Winters shared with Tori and that started with her older brother, Daryn.
Victoria’s spunky spirit would abound for the rest of her almost nine-year life, as her relatives remember a girl who was always on the go.
“People should remember her as a burst of life,” her aunt Randi Millen says.
She loved music as spunky as her, and whenever her uncle Steve Millen put on “The Hamster Dance” song Victoria and her cousins would start bouncing around.
The only times Randi Millen ever saw Tori sitting still were at Medieval Times — a Toronto dinner-theatre show that features jousting — and the Nutcracker ballet.
Even movies were difficult for the active child to sit through. The longer she sat, the antsier she got.
“She was always a little pistol,” her paternal grandmother Doreen Graichen says.
As a younger girl she was more timid and quiet, but as she grew so did her outgoing personality. She was not afraid to talk to anyone and showed compassion for all people.
Tori was often hyper, but she was also loved to hug and to cuddle. She would spend many hours with Winters, sitting in a chair together, wrapped up in a blanket and reading the Bible.
In pictures, her white blonde hair and beaming face show a radiant little girl. In several photos she seems to have decided a simple smile would not suffice and instead flashed the camera a massive, open-mouthed grin that nearly enveloped her face.
That somewhat impish smile has been transmitted all across Canada and on flyers her family made when Victoria went missing. Two people have now been charged with first-degree murder and tragically the search for the bright, bubbly girl has become a grim hunt for her remains.
On Friday, police established a dedicated tipline — 1-866-825-4222 — for the public to call with any information that might aid the search.
In many regards Victoria was a typical eight-year-old, but while she was a giggly girly-girl she was also fascinated by insects and nature.
Victoria loved to play dress-up, staging fashion shows and painting her nails with her cousins and having tea parties. She loved to shop and had several T-shirts with that fact proudly emblazoned across the front.
Known as Tori to some and Princess Victoria to others, she loved the popular girl-oriented franchises of Hannah Montana, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Barbie and Bratz, Winters recalls.
And sparkles. She loved sparkles.
Victoria had a penchant for ice cream, especially bubblegum flavour. Winters remembers her picking out the pieces of gum one by one and saving them for last.
Little Victoria was also a budding artist, putting careful effort into creating beautiful birthday, Valentine’s Day and Christmas cards for her relatives — often with a roses-are-red-“vilitse”-are-blue poem inside.
She was content to spend hours drawing and sketching and was happy as long as she had a pencil and paper. In fact, when no paper was available Tori would make do. Her dad recalls many an important document getting covered with smiley faces and stick figures.
But she was also a nature-buff and was constantly exploring the world around her. Victoria was always catching snakes, worms and salamanders — sometimes while wearing a dress.
She would even play with spiders and other bugs that made their way into the house.
Outdoorsy to the core, she spent what time she could swimming, biking, skipping stones and helping Graichen in the garden, taking time and great care to figure out the perfect spot for each flower she planted.
Victoria was in her element on a trip to Alberta last summer, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and nature.
“It was stuff that was supposed to be a lifetime of memories for her,” Graichen says.
The little princess was a carefree, “fluttery” girl who would spend her summer days running across neighbours’ lawns barefoot.
That neighbours spotted the little girl barefoot would come as no surprise to family members, who say Tori absolutely hated socks. She went without them whenever she could and her shoes would stink as a result.
Even in winter they would have a hard time getting her to put anything on her feet. The last time her father took her on one of their many walks, in the cold days before she went missing, Victoria wore only Crocs on her feet — with no socks, of course.
The refusal to wear socks even in inclement weather is indicative of the little girl with a big personality. And an attitude to match, her dad says.
Victoria had an ear-piercing scream that would sometimes come out when she was mad, sometimes when she was happy, and sometimes just for the fun of showing everyone how loudly she could scream.
When she didn’t get her own way, Victoria would storm off to her room and slam her door not once, but twice. She was just learning how to best get her own way and could turn the waterworks on and off as needed.
But what truly upset her the most was fighting with her beloved brother Daryn. He was just two years older than his sister and she was always trying to keep up with him, all her relatives say.
Daryn is an A or B student while Tori was a B or C student, and it was a constant source of frustration for her. She didn’t really like doing her homework, so she and her dad had to have a little chat about that. It would be one of the last times they talked.
Victoria and Daryn went through a lot together and had a rock-solid bond. They were everything to each other and would do anything for one another.
Whenever Tori was crying, protective Daryn would try to comfort her — even if he was the reason why she was crying.
“She never liked fighting with her brother,” her dad Rodney Stafford says.
“Every time he got mad at her she felt like she was losing her best friend.”