Residents mourn at memorial
Zahra Baker's obituary said she was a determined, outgoing child.
That spirit was reflected Thursday at the child's public memorial service in Hickory.
The service included a picture slideshow of Zahra in happier times: playing miniature golf, sticking out her tongue, hugging her father, riding on a motorcycle and playing with a snake.
Dozens attended Thursday's memorial service at Drum Funeral Home in Hickory. The number paled in comparison to the hundreds of people who participated in a candlelight vigil held in downtown Hickory on Nov. 16, what would have been Zahra's 11th birthday.
Those who attended the service, however, came for a chance to grieve and pay their respects to the 10-year-old who, according to recent reports, suffered horribly in her final days.
Fred Jones, of Goldsboro, drove five hours to attend the service. For Jones, the death of a child hits too close to home. He attended Zahra's funeral still grieving for his 13-year-old son, who died in 1999 in an ATV crash.
"It just crushes me," Jones said as tears streamed down his face. "I'm here so people will be respectful to this little girl."
Jones donated a flowered wreath to display in the chapel, where a collection of pictures, a teddy bear and other flower arrangements were displayed.
"I can't believe someone would do that to a child," he said. "Someone would have taken her in."
Music from Alan Jackson and Elvis Presley played during memorial, where visitors could view the slideshow tribute and sign a register book for the family.
"Why did she have to go?" says Jackon's "Sissy's Song," which played on repeat during the service. "So young I just don't know why. Things happen half the time without reason, without rhyme."
Several service visitors recognized the song, singing along with the words as they snapped pictures of the memorial tribute.
Friends Nancy Ayers and Willoree Smith, both of Newton, attended the service Thursday. The pair said they followed Zahra's story from the day the news first broke, and they wore handmade pins on their lapels with Zahra's picture.
"The fact that she had cancer and went through so much, I think that's why so many people care about her," Ayers said.
She and Smith have literally followed the case around western North Carolina, visiting the former Baker residence in Hickory and several other locations in Caldwell County, where police located Zahra's remains.
Smith has 13 grandchildren, and she can't imagine someone harming them the way Zahra was harmed.
"If someone did something to them, I believe I would have to do something about it," she said. "Even if I had to go to jail."
Several Hickory Police officers also attended the service, standing at the funeral home's door as people arrived.
As people trickled in and out of the service, some visitors talked about the ongoing investigation into Zahra's murder.
Kelly Wise, of Hickory, wondered why no one is charged in Zahra's death.
"(The case) has just stayed with me," he said. "You don't expect it in your own backyard."
Drum Funeral Home provided the service for free, and another tribute will be held Friday from 1-4 p.m.
Zahra's family originally scheduled a public service for Zahra, but the event was made private and rescheduled to a later date.