Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins learned a lot about Zahra Baker since the investigation into her disappeance started more than a month ago.
He spoke with several people who knew Zahra during her life, and each one told him the same thing: Zahra didn't want to be pitied.
"Nothing would slow her down," Adkins said. "She wanted no pity. She wanted to be like every other child."
Zahra's birthday Tuesday wasn't like a normal 11-year-old's birthday celebration, but the hundreds of people who attended a candlelight vigil in the child's honor weren't there to pity her. They came to honor the brave cancer survivor and pray that no child again suffers the fate Zahra did.
"If Zahra were leading a normal life today, she would be preparing for a birthday celebration," said Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright during the vigil at Union Square in downtown Hickory. "... But something went wrong."
Adkins announced Friday in an emotional press conference that police recovered enough evidence to think they located Zahra's remains in Caldwell County.
"My heart is very heavy with what has happened to Zahra, and I just hope that justice prevails," said Joyce King, of Mountain View, who attended Tuesday's vigil.
King lost a child to cancer 10 years ago, and Zahra's battle with the disease reminds King of that struggle.
"We know what she went through," King said. "I just keep thinking, 'Maybe that little girl had a greater purpose.' Maybe this was her purpose. I prayed about that earlier today."
The threat of rain Tuesday didn't stop people or media crews from attending the vigil. Some people arrived at Union Square more than an hour before the vigil started, just to ensure they had a spot to participate in the ceremony.
Adkins spoke during the vigil about Zahra's brief life, from her cancer diagnosis at age 5 to her determined recovery and spunky personality.
Zahra's cancer spread to her lungs, and surgery to remove the cancer left Zahra with an x-shaped scar by her ribcage. Adkins said Zahra always told people, "X marks the spot to my heart."
"Zahra touched all of our lives in the past month," Adkins said. "I say today that Z for Zahra marks the way in our hearts."
The Children's Protection Council of Catawba County provided 600 candles for the vigil, but because so many people attended the event, some people brought their own candles or simply shared with someone else. Others held posters or cards for Zahra, and others carried images depicting the child with angel wings.
Sheila Brinkley, of Granite Falls, brought her daughters, 10-year-old Sheyen and 6-year-old Alexis, to the candlelight vigil. Sheyen and Alexis brought stuffed animals and balloons for Zahra.
"Child abuse is very real," Shelia Brinkley said. "The only thing we can do is pray we have the eyes and the ears to prevent it from happening."
Sheyen said Zahra's death is very sad, especially since she and Zahra are about the same age.
"She's in heaven now with Jesus," Sheyen said.