Zahra's remains show 20 cut marks

Undetermined homicidal violence killed the 10-year-old disabled girl from Hickory who used hearing aids and wore a prosthetic leg to walk.

A recently released autopsy performed Nov. 12 at Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel Hill revealed Zahra Baker died from unknown violent injuries before her body was dismembered by at least two different cutting instruments.

Because of the number of bones missing from Zahra's skeletal remains, medical examiners weren't able to determine the sex, race or height of the remains, which were found in late October at two different Caldwell County locations. The skeletal remains were linked to Zahra after positive identification from DNA taken from Zahra's toothbrush.

"Most of the bones are not present, most notably the skull," the autopsy report notes. "Several of the bones exhibit cutting-tool marks that are consistent with dismemberment. The marks grossly appear to result from the use of at least two different cutting instruments."

The autopsy details 11 cut marks on Zahra's right thigh bone, which was the leg not injured from cancer treatment. There also appeared to be one cut mark partially through the neck, two cut marks on the surface of the neck and another seven cut marks on the shaft of the thigh bone.

Zahra's spine also showed evidence of cut marks, including two distinct marks along the child's fifth cervical vertebra near the neck, causing bone loss to the child's skeletal remains.

The autopsy confirms reports from Elisa Baker, Zahra's stepmother, who led police to different parts of Caldwell County, where Zahra's remains were found. Elisa told police that Zahra was dismembered after her death, and some of the child's remains could be found in the drain trap of the family's former rental home in Hickory.

The autopsy doesn't detail any signs of healed injuries from previous trauma or injuries, despite allegations from neighbors and family members that Zahra was abused and mistreated prior to her death.

Catawba County Department of Social Services released a statement Monday detailing the department's involvement in investigating reported mistreatment of Zahra. Catawba County DSS interviewed Zahra, Elisa and Zahra's father, Adam Baker, independently, as well as other people close to the situation, and found no evidence of maltreatment or child safety issues.

Caldwell County DSS asked Catawba County's department to investigate the maltreatment claims after receiving reports in July that the family had moved from Caldwell County to Hickory.

Caldwell County received Child Protective Services reports regarding Zahra on Jan. 29. 2010, Feb. 4, 2010, May 28, and July 12. No evidence of maltreatment or child-safety issues were found, according to Caldwell County.

Although Zahra's autopsy doesn't specify exactly what caused the child's death, it does rule out death from accidental or natural causes.

Zahra's left leg was amputated below the knee in 2005 after she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma cancer. The child's ribs show evidence of the right lung lobectomy she underwent in 2007 after her cancer spread.

The medical examiner's office received Zahra's left humerus bone Nov. 4. Measurements of the bone were taken before it was released to Hickory Police Department and taken to the State Bureau of Investigation for DNA analysis.

The humerus bone was returned to the medical examiner's office Dec. 17.
Other bones missing from Zahra's skeleton include her left and right hands, right foot, lower arm bones and sternum.

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