Court docs reveal disabled NC girl was dismembered

HICKORY, N.C. (AP) — A disabled North Carolina girl was dismembered and police needed her stepmother’s help to find the remains because they were in such remote locations, according to court documents filed Monday by the woman’s lawyers.

The latest, macabre details in the case of once-missing Zahra Baker were revealed as attorneys for the stepmother argued the woman’s bond should be lessened because she helped police. Elisa Baker has been in custody since the day after Zahra was reported missing, and she is accused of trying to throw off investigators by writing a fake ransom note for another child.

Zahra’s father was also arrested on a host of charges unrelated to the girl’s disappearance, but is free on bail. Calls to his lawyer were not returned.

No one has been charged in Zahra’s death, but police have cast doubt on her parents’ claims they last saw her alive Oct. 9. Zahra was born in Australia and moved to North Carolina with her father about two years ago.

On Friday, police said they found a bone that matches DNA from Zahra, and believed other remains were about five miles away. They have not said, and the court documents don’t explain, how she died.

Elisa Baker told police on Oct. 24 that Zahra “was deceased, that her body had been dismembered and that it would be recovered at different sites,” according to the documents. She was allowed to accompany police the following two days to sites within about 15 miles of Hickory, in western North Carolina, showing them where Zahra’s remains were.

The court papers were reported by Charlotte-area TV stations and posted on the website of WCNC-TV.

As police continued their investigation, residents left stuffed animals, balloons and birthday cards at a makeshift memorial in front of the family’s now-abandoned house. Pictures and angels hung from a tree outside the home in Hickory, about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte. One man stopped to kneel in prayer.

A candlelight vigil for the freckle-faced Zahra, whose cancer forced her to use hearing aids and a prostetic leg, was scheduled for Tuesday, the day she would’ve turned 11.

“The vigil is really about her life and her story, since we don’t have all the facts about what happened to her,” said Adrienne Opdyke, one of the organizers of the event planned by the Children’s Protection Council of Catawba County.

Zahra’s parents told authorities she was last seen in her bed at their home in Hickory. Soon after she was reported missing, police had trouble finding anyone other than Zahra’s parents who had seen her alive in the weeks before her disappearance. 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 admitted writing the note and was charged with obstruction of justice charge, police said.

Adam Baker, 33, 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.

Cassie Deal, a retired daycare operator who lives two miles away from Zahra’s old home, said both of her own grown children had died within the past three years, and she felt a connection with Zahra.

“I would have taken her home with me,” Deal said.

“I’d have loved to have her,” she said. “I know what it’s like.”

Calls about the vigil have come in from across the country, Opdyke said. Candles will be distributed, and a choir is expected to sing. Birthday gifts will be donated to needy children in the area.

Some 100 miles northeast of Hickory, Kristie Pope was organizing a vigil in Greensboro. Mourners will gather at a local Ben & Jerry’s, which is making a special birthday cake for Zahra.

“We all got attached to her,” Pope, a mother of three, said. “You see this cute kid who looks like the kid next door and everyone falls in love.”

Pope has also started an online group called The Zahra Project, which she hopes will be a way to prevent similar deaths. Pope was incensed by news coverage of Zahra’s home life that quoted neighbors saying they knew the girl was being mistreated.

“Our goal is to see someone held accountable for this,” she said. “We can’t do anything to bring Zahra Baker back, but maybe we can stop it from happening to another little kid.”

Zahra’s biological mother had traveled from Australia to Hickory last week. Emily Dietrich, from Wagga Wagga in New South Wales province, told the Australia-based Seven Network Sunday she hopes to be able to return her daughter’s remains to her native country.

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Associated Press Writer Tom Breen in Raleigh contributed to this report.

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