Birthdays are a time to celebrate life, and today is Zahra Baker's 11th birthday.
The Children's Protection Council will hold a candlelight vigil Tuesday to honor Zahra, the child whose struggle with cancer and reported abuse captured the hearts of people worldwide.
"It's a recognition of Zahra being part of our community and our community being overwhelmed by the possibilities of what could have happened," said Adrienne Opdyke, Children's Protection Council vice chairwoman.
The Children's Protection Council is a volunteer organization committed to the prevention of child abuse in Catawba County. The council meets monthly to plan and implement strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect.
"We are a group of volunteers," Opdyke said. "We absolutely care about the kids in this community. It's more personal because it's for Zahra, and she was a part of our community."
The vigil starts at 6 p.m. at Union Square in downtown Hickory. The one-hour ceremony will feature several speakers, including Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright, Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins and Opdyke.
The candlelight vigil comes after Adkins' grim announcement Friday that investigators recovered enough physical evidence to think they located Zahra's remains in Caldwell County.
The vigil was scheduled before police announced the probable recovery of Zahra's remains, but Opdyke said the vigil's meaning doesn't change.
"For us, it doesn't change the focus," she said. "It does impact our emotions, but it doesn't change the focus on Zahra and what she means to the community."
The Children's Protection Council will provide 600 candles for people attending Tuesday's vigil, but it's possible more people will come.
"We don't really know how many people to expect," Opdyke said. "We've had calls from all over."
Tuesday's forecast calls for rain, but the event will be held regardless of the weather. Opdyke encourages everyone to bring umbrellas to stay dry.
Because the vigil is held on Zahra's birthday, Opdyke expects some people will bring toys or stuffed animals in Zahra's honor. Baskets will be set up for gifts, which will be donated to Hickory Police Department's Cops for Tots program.
For Wright, Tuesday's scheduled vigil is one more example of the city's compassion.
"I don't know anything that's happened in the past that has had the same impact on the community that this has," Wright said.
Many residents expressed shock and concern that such a tragic, heartbreaking situation could happen in the Hickory area. Hickory was named an All-American City for the third time in 2007, and in 2006, the North Carolina Department of Commerce designated the city as a N.C. Main Street Community.
"Anything can happen anywhere," Wright said. "We don't like to think it can happen here, but it can."
Hickory and Catawba County gained international media attention as the search for Zahra progressed. She was first reported missing Oct. 9 by her father, Adam Baker, and the missing child case developed into a homicide investigation several days later.
"I have been very proud for the job our police department has done throughout the case," Wright said. "Tom Adkins has been a wonderful spokesperson for this city."
Hickory Police Department, with assistance from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several other law enforcement agencies, worked for weeks to find the child's whereabouts.
Despite the heartbreak and trauma surrounding Zahra's death, Wright commends the citizens for their unwavering concern and commitment to finding justice for the child.
"We know we have a caring city," he said. "That's been demonstrated by the people that have come together for this little girl."
For more information about Tuesday's vigil, contact the Children's Protection Council at (828) 465-9297 or www.cpcofcatawbacounty.org .