Note: In my original post, I had written that Zahra was 12-years-old. She was actually 10.
About a month ago, I wrote very briefly about the Zahra Baker case, a case that has not just garnered local attention here in NC but around the world. Baker, a 10-year-old who lost a leg to cancer (and wore a prosthetic) and who also had hearing loss issues as a result of chemo treatment, was reported missing by her father, Adam, which prompted the police to issue an Amber alert for Zahra. There was also a ransom note, which the stepmother – Elisa Baker – admitted to writing. It was at that point that Hickory police called off the search for Zahra and declare the case a homicide. But at the time, they didn’t have the body to be able to confirm their suspicions.
Today, Hickory police confirmed that a bone found earlier this week matches Zahra’s DNA:
HICKORY, N.C. – In a late afternoon press conference, Hickory Police confirm a bone found last week on Christie Road in Caldwell County is that of Zahra Baker.
Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins says DNA from the bone matched DNA taken from the Baker home during the investigation.
Chief Adkins says remains found off of Dudley Shoals Road have been taken to the state medical examiner’s to confirm a DNA match to Zahra, but did say the findings were consistant with that of a child.
Zahra Baker was reported missing by her father and stepmother, Adam and Elisa Baker, on Oct. 9.
As police moved further into their investigation they discovered that no one, except for Adam and Elisa Baker, could confirm seeing Zahra after Sept. 25.
Elisa Baker was arrested on Oct. 10, the day after reporting Zahra missing, on charged unrelated to the child’s disappearance. She was charged with obstruction of justice in connection with the case on Oct. 11. Police say Elisa Baker wrote a bogus ransom note and refused to cooperate with investigators.
Police said Elisa Baker began talking to investigators on Sunday, but would not say if it was information from Elisa Baker that lead them to the search sites where they found evidence.
On Oct. 25, a mattress was found in the Caldwell County landfill. It’s still being tested for DNA, but police believe it belonged to Zahra.
On Oct. 27, investigators uncovered the girl’s prosthetic leg in the brush off Christie Road in Caldwell County.
On Nov. 3, investigators discovered a bone at another search site. The bone is still being tested to determine if it belonged to Zahra.
Early reporting on this story indicated that DSS had had to be called in to the Baker residence before to investigate allegations of child abuse as neighbors and teachers reported seeing bruises on Zahra. Who did they come from? Quite possibly her stepmother. Via AP:
Zahra was born in Australia and moved to North Carolina about two years ago after her father, Adam Baker, met his soon-to-be wife, Elisa Baker, online. Zahra’s friends and relatives in Giru, Australia, described her as an outgoing, happy girl despite the cancer, and said she didn’t want to come to the U.S.
Soon after Zahra was reported missing, investigators cast doubt on accounts given by Zahra’s father and stepmother. Police had trouble finding anyone other than Zahra’s parents who had seen her alive in the weeks before her disappearance, and a suspicious early morning fire occurred at the family’s home several hours before she was reported missing.
It was then that police discovered a ransom note addressed to Adam Baker’s boss on the windshield of Baker’s car. Police went to that man’s house, and found him and his daughter to be fine. Elisa Baker, 42, admitted writing the bogus ransom note and has been charged with obstruction of justice. She is still being held in jail.
Adam Baker, 33, was arrested on charges unrelated to Zahra’s disappearance and is free on bail. He is facing one count each of assault with a deadly weapon and failure to return rental property, two counts of communicating threats and five counts of writing worthless checks, authorities said.
Adkins did not take any questions at the news conference.
Neighbors and relatives have said that Elisa Baker had a short temper and was abusive toward her stepdaughter. Caldwell County Department of Social Services investigated the family because Zahra went to school with bruises and a teacher alerted school officials, who have said they are prohibited by law from discussing the case.
The outpouring of love for Zahra in response to this story has not just been local but worldwide. It’s a heartwrenching, heartbreaking story of innocence lost. She survived cancer but likely died from something far more brutal and shocking: the hand of a family member she was supposed to be able to trust.
There’s no way to understand what goes through the mind of someone who murders someone else, especially when the murderer is a family member – blood relative or not – and especially when the victim is a child. And you know what? I’m not interested in understanding the “why” when it comes to the murder of innocents. The only thing I’m interested in is that justice be swift and harsh.
In the meantime, I’m consoled and at peace with the fact that Zahra is in a much better place now, a place where she can hear without the assistance of a hearing aid, walk without a prosthetic, and won’t ever have to worry for a single moment that she’ll be abused again. And she’ll always, always be happy. The earthly loss of Zahra Baker is heaven’s gain. An angel is home, and she’s smiling from up there at all of us down here.