NORTH CAROLINA — The search for — and the life of — a freckle-faced 10-year-old North Carolina girl is over, with police announcing Friday that they had found her remains.
“Today, our community mourns, our state mourns, our nation mourns, and the world mourns,” said Hickory, North Carolina, police Chief Tom Adkins.
Adkins said that DNA from a bone dug up off Christie Road in Caldwell County — the same place Zahra Baker’s prosthetic leg was recovered late last month — was consistent with that taken from the girl’s personal items.
Using DNA swabs taken from Zahra’s biological father and mother, investigators are trying to confirm that more human remains found at a site five miles away also belonged to her, according to Adkins. But he said the medical examiner’s staff at the site said those bones appeared to have belonged to a girl of Zahra’s age.
“Investigators, agents, officers and staff who have worked on this case are devastated that they were not able to bring Zahra home alive,” Adkins said.
The girl’s stepmother, Elisa Baker, reported Zahra missing on Oct. 9, and then was arrested the next day after police said she admitted writing a fake ransom note found at the family’s home in Hickory. But no one other than a relative had seen Zahra since Sept. 25, according to authorities, when a woman said she saw the girl at a furniture store.
In mid-October, police announced they were treating Zahra’s disappearance as a homicide.
The disappearance of Zahra, who had persevered through numerous health battles and wore hearing aids, made international news. Zahra, whose biological parents were both from Australia, lost her leg to bone cancer at age 5 and reportedly developed lung cancer a few years later.
The girl’s father, Adam Troy Baker, was arrested late last month in nearby Catawba County on eight charges: five counts of writing bad checks and three counts of failing to appear in court. Authorities said the charges were unrelated to Zahra’s disappearance, and he was later released on bail.
His wife, Elisa Baker, remains in jail. Besides an obstruction of justice charge for the ransom note, she was accused of writing worthless checks. Police said that she has been cooperating with investigators, including leading them to search sites.
Friday’s announcement is the most significant, but not the first major development in the search for Zahra’s remains. On Oct. 27, investigators announced they had found the 10-year-old’s prosthetic leg in a brushy area off a North Carolina road. And earlier this month, authorities reported finding the bone that is related to the case.