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N.C. woman creates website for Zahra

November 16, 2010

A North Carolina woman created a Facebook page to honor Zahra Baker in the hope that no child will suffer like Zahra did.
Kristie Austin Pope, 40, of Stokedale, started The Zahra Project on Facebook to achieve change within the Department of Social Services.
Pope and her husband watched the news coverage of Zahra's case, and the reports of abuse and neglect hit a nerve for Pope.
She watched people step into the media spotlight claiming they knew Zahra was being abused, but did nothing to stop the abuse.
"It's really important that there's a law here that says you have to report abuse," Pope said. "It really hit a nerve with me. That killed me. I thought, 'Do you mean you knew this was going to happen? If you knew this was going on, why didn't you do anything?'"
Pope, tired of the neglect, decided to do something for Zahra. She started The Zahra Project, which is committed to spreading awareness about Zahra's life and death, and how to prevent other children from slipping through the cracks.
"I can't think of anything else you do in the state where neglect didn't have a consequence," Pope said.
In North Carolina, citizens are required by law to report signs of abuse and neglect, a law Pope said isn't given the attention it deserves.
Since the page's creation, more than 2,200 people have "liked" the page of Facebook and left hundreds of personal messages on the page's comment wall.
"Happy birthday, Zahra," one Facebook user posted on The Zahra Project page. "Now you rest in the arms of Jesus, where no one can ever hurt you again. I pray that the people responsible will be brought to justice. RIP, precious little girl."
Other Facebook users demanded justice for Zahra's killers.
"This case has disgusted me from day one," said one post. "It is such a shame that so many of this precious little girl's family and 'friends' knew what was going on and did nothing to help her. I just don't understand."
In the future, Pope wants to start discussions with law enforcement and area lawmakers to ensure accountability in social services. She wants to create a Zahra Bill, which could outline requirements for mandatory checks of home-schooled students. Pope also suggested creating a database of children and where they live in the area, so when police arrive at a house, they know exactly how many children are living at that location.
"I would be nice if people could just type and find out how many children should be there," she said.
Zahra's biological mother, Emily Dietrich, left a message for Pope on The Zahra Project page. Pope said Dietrich asked to contact the page's administrator and speak about how the page intends to grow.
The group will hold an online vigil Tuesday in honor of Zahra's 11th birthday. Pope asks anyone honoring Zahra's birthday to take pictures of their event and upload the photos to The Zahra Project's page.
"We're trying to put them in an album together, so everyone can see it," Pope said.
Pope organized a vigil for Zahra at Friendly Shopping Center in Greensboro from 6-7 p.m, which is the same time as the vigil in Hickory. Another vigil for Zahra will be held in Ohio.
"Even though we're all in different parts of the world," Pope said, "we'll all be having the vigils together."

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