FERGUS, Ont. - Police searching for the body of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford sealed off a large garbage bin Thursday in a rural area about an hour east of where she went missing six weeks ago, calling it an item of interest.
Several officers were dispatched to watch over the scene just north of Guelph, Ont. - a move that came as a shock to Dean Smith, whose property houses the bin.
He said he returned from work to find a commotion and told police they were welcome to search the bin, which he said is emptied every few weeks and had been used the previous night.
''I'm more than just a little surprised, to tell you the truth,'' said Smith, who added he didn't notice anything suspicious.
''I have a nine-year-old daughter. It's sickening.''
Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino told Toronto radio station CFRB that evidence led police to search the area.
Two people have been charged in Victoria's disappearance, and court documents suggest police believe the girl, better known as Tori, died the same day she was taken.
Michael Rafferty, 28, is charged with first-degree murder and abduction, and Terri-Lynne McClintic, 18, is charged with abduction and being an accessory.
At Tori's school Thursday, the flag flew at half-mast as counsellors helped students cope with the loss of the bright little girl.
The children at Oliver Stephens Public School were given the sad news Wednesday as the rest of the city learned what they had long feared, but had hoped would not be the case.
Next to the school is a row of townhouses in a co-op where Tori lived with her mother Tara McDonald and 11-year-old brother Daryn for about a year. They moved a few blocks away just five days before she was abducted.
On the front lawn three doors down from Tori's old home, neighbour Heather Baker set up a tea party memorial with a teapot, crackers, stuffed animals, flowers and lots of decorations in purple - Tori's favourite colour.
Tori and Baker's seven-year-old daughter Emma were best friends and would drag the table out from the backyard and have tea parties in front of her kitchen window all summer long, she said.
Since Tori went missing, Emma had been organizing all her stuffed animals, hoping that when Tori returned, they could have a tea party again, Baker said.
''They told her at school before she came home and she just cried,'' Baker said.
''She knows the finality of death and she was just devastated. She wondered who did this. She wanted to know who did this to her best friend and why.''
Baker was devastated herself. The co-op is a close-knit community, and news of Tori's disappearance and death hit them all hard, she said.
''We can still see Tori running back and forth across the lawns in her bare feet,'' Baker said. ''I guess it occurred to all of us that this may be an outcome, but you just choose not to believe it.''
Police said Wednesday that McClintic ''may be familiar'' with McDonald.
Tori's father Rodney Stafford said he believes the two, who lived only blocks apart, were acquainted through wanting to breed dogs.
A source told The Canadian Press that McDonald used to buy OxyContin - which she has admitted to using in the past - from McClintic.
Baker recalled a different connection.
''Terri-Lynne, I had heard her name last year, speaking with Tara,'' Baker said.
''I had a friend who was going to buy the couch that Tara had, and that fell through and I remember (Tara) saying, 'Oh no, I'm going to give it to my friend Terri-Lynne.' ''
Rafferty and McClintic next appear in court May 28.