The search for 10-year-old Zahra Baker has recently turned into a homicide investigation. The bone cancer survivor from Hickory, North Carolina wore a prosthetic leg and hearing aids. On Saturday, October 9, Baker was reported missing after a yard fire at the home where a ransom note was found.
In a news conference on Tuesday morning, Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins indicated that they believe Baker was killed. Adkins noted that the girl’s stepmother, Elisa Baker, admitted to writing the ransom note that was addressed to “Mr. Coffey,” who was indentified as the girl’s father’s boss. She has been charged with felony obstruction of justice in the case. During the conference, Adkins didn’t take any questions and did not comment on why the investigation switched to homicide. On Monday, a search warrant revealed that police dogs sensed the smell of human remains and blood in Baker’s parents’ vehicle. Also, when police searched the house, they found that Baker’s hearing aids had been left behind. The stepmother claims she saw Zahra sleeping in her room 12 hours earlier. The girl’s father, Adam Baker, hadn’t seen his daughter since Thursday. Because the stories do not match up, officials haven’t been able to create a firm timeline.
“We understand the public wants to help find Zahra. The problem is we cannot confirm with any confidence how long Zahra has been missing. Without this information, we cannot positively select the area to search for her,” Adkins explained during the conference in response to volunteers offering to help in search efforts. It has been reported that no one outside of the family has seen Baker alive in a month. Baker’s father hasn’t been charged in the case, but he has not been ruled out as a suspect. Police stated that he is being cooperative, and Adam said it was possible that his wife could be involved.
Relatives of the Baker family also agree with Adam’s statement. Baker had recently been home-schooled and was always locked up in her room. Elisa’s daughter-in-law, Brittany Bentley, said, “I just think this was something for a long time that we knew was going to happen, everybody that was close to the family.” She also added that when Baker stayed with her on some weekends, she would always be upset to have to go home. Bentley explained, “She was locked in her room, allowed five minutes out a day to eat, that was it. She was beat almost every time I was over there for the smallest things. Elisa would get mad; she would take it out on Zahra, things the kid didn’t deserve. She just had a horrible home life.” The family wasn’t the only to notice, “There were signs along the way, but you never want to think the worst,” Kayla Rotenberry, a former neighbor, said.
Despite her horrible home life and health problems, Baker was described as shy but constantly smiling. The Hickory Police Department will be holding another news conference on Monday, October 18. If anyone has information regarding Baker’s whereabouts, call 828-328-5551.