'Valuable' evidence recovered
Evidence recovered during a Caldwell County search could provide police with the information they need to crack a month-old murder investigation.
Hickory Police confirmed Thursday they located potentially valuable evidence Wednesday in the Zahra Baker case during their search of a wooded area near Upper Little River in Caldwell County.
Police, however, remain tight-lipped about what that evidence is.
"We understand the concern and interest in this case by the public," Hickory Police Department said Thursday in a press release, "but we must be cautious in prematurely releasing information, so it will not jeopardize any future criminal proceedings."
Several media outlets reported Thursday the evidence recovered in the Caldwell County search includes human remains, but that hasn't been confirmed.
"I don't know where those reports are coming from," said HPD Maj. Clyde Deal. "The only thing we've released is that evidence was found."
Evidence located during the search will be sent to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation's crime lab for testing.
Wednesday's evidence recovery, however, didn't stop crews from continuing their search Thursday. Deal said investigators finished a "specifically defined" search Thursday of Christie Road in Caldwell County.
The area, which is near a former residence of Zahra's stepmother Elisa Baker, was searched previously in the investigation.
"Based on what we know, we had good reason to go back," Deal said.
The search concluded Thursday afternoon, but Deal said nothing was recovered.
Caldwell County previously proved to be a key location in the investigation, with several key pieces of evidence located in the area. Police recovered a mattress in late October that potentially belonged to Zahra at the Foothills Environmental Landfill in Catawba County. Zahra's prosthetic leg, which she used after battling cancer, was found Oct. 27 in a brushy area of Caldwell County.
Investigators located a bone about one week ago that police said could be related to Zahra's case. The bone was submitted to the Medical Examiner's Office and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation for testing to determine if it belongs to Zahra.
Deal said last week that those tests take at least one week to complete. He confirmed Thursday police received results from the SBI, but investigators aren't ready to release those results.
Media outlets also reported Thursday that Zahra's biological mother, Emily Dietrich, arrived in Catawba County from her native Australia. Deal wouldn't confirm Dietrich's arrival in the United States, but said he had several conversations with Dietrich throughout the course of the investigation into Zahra's disappearance.
"She has spoken over the time of maybe coming (to Catawba County)," Deal said. "She has asked me for her privacy and not to give out her information or travel plans, and we respect that."
Hickory Police thanked the Caldwell County Emergency Management staff, Lenoir Fire Department, the American Red Cross, Caldwell County Sheriff Alan Jones and many other agencies who assisted police during their investigation.
Nov. 16 is Zahra's 11th birthday, and the Children's Protection Council of Catawba County will hold a candlelight vigil in the child's honor. The vigil is Nov. 16 from 6-7 p.m. at Union Square in downtown Hickory.