I was a wreck, and not sure why, writes Woodstock, Ont. radio host Don Martin.
I was on the air when John Lennon was shot, when 9/11 occurred, and
when the space shuttle exploded. All-important stories, but none
affected me like this one.
Don Martin is the afternoon radio host for 104.7 Heart FM in Woodstock, which followed the abduction of eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford. The young girl’s disappearance in April became the major media story in Ontario. On May 20, two suspects were arrested and charged with her murder, but her body has not been found. She would have celebrated her ninth birthday on July 15.
I have purposely been avoiding my feelings about the Tori Stafford case. As a dad and a media personality, it’s been a tough cookie to swallow. From that first day she went missing in Woodstock (April 8th), I haven’t been the same person.
I’m not really sure why. I didn’t know the family. I’ve never met the little girl.
Like other people in the community, I had my thoughts and ideas as to what really happened. I heard all the rumors and innuendo about the case, and formed my own opinions. I found it very hard to keep them to myself every day. As a broadcaster for over 30 years, I know one can only report the facts, and while the facts were vague and unclear, I continued to report them.
I found I had to weigh every word. I was privy to rumours about the case more than most because of my position in the community. There were many times when I wanted to give my personal opinion, but kept it professional and commented on facts only. Other media would report based on “sources,” but I kept my comments only to people I could name.
While other Facebook pages were set up by people to discuss these rumors, I kept the station’s Facebook group page,104.7 Heart FM, strictly to the facts and offered it as a place for listeners’ thoughts and condolences to the family. All negative comments and innuendo were removed.
My wife became my sounding board on this story. There were many nights I couldn’t sleep, and I shed tears over the little girl’s fate.
I felt, and still feel, I have a responsibility to report the facts to the community and try and ignore the rumor mill. While the story has gone cold for now, I still find myself driving by the old John Deere factory and counting the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) cars in the lot, wondering what they’re working on, and if they are any closer to finding the little girl.
Every day while the case was in the spotlight, I went home and hugged my kids, talked to them about the story, and did my best to keep them safe.
A few days after Tori went missing my wife and I attended a candle light vigil for her and the family. I made a point of seeking out Tori’s mom and giving her a hug. Why? I’m not really sure…I think I just wanted to see if I could “feel” her genuine loss. Or could I tell if she was lying?
I lost sleep at night, my moods changed with the click of a light switch, and I couldn’t explain why. The story was our lead story for weeks. I took on the task of keeping Facebook members informed of all the latest details. I set up a condolence page on our group site, as well as a book at our studios for people to drop in and sign. I found myself driving by her house regularly, and keeping my eyes open for anyone that may have fit the description of her. I watched the video of her leaving the school over and over, wondering where this little girl was, and was she all right.
I was a wreck, and not sure why. I was on the air when John Lennon was shot, when 9/11 occurred, and when the space shuttle exploded. All-important stories, but none affected me like this one. It got so bad I had to take a week off to decompress after two people had been arrested. While the story has gone cold for now, I still think there’s much more that we have yet to hear about.
Time has passed, and Tori’s body has still not been found, I still have a glimmer of hope deep down that she may be alive somewhere…and as life goes on, my heart goes out to Tori’s family and friend. I think about her every day.
I still hug my kids very tight every day, and thank God it wasn’t them.
Don Martin is the afternoon radio host for 104.7 Heart FM in Woodstock.