HICKORY — The mother of a 10-year-old Australian girl who authorities believe was killed in North Carolina says dealing with her daughter's death has been painful.
But Emily Dietrich wrote that she believes her daughter, Zahra Baker, is at peace.
"My search for Zahra was finally over," she wrote in a diary of the trip that she gave News 7 Australia, the TV network that accompanied her to Hickory. "I may not be able to ever hug her, or give her a kiss, but I can always tell her I love her and that I am proud of her."
Zahra Baker was reported missing Oct. 9 and authorities later characterized the case as a homicide.
Nobody has been charged in the girl's death. But her stepmother, Elisa Baker, has been charged with obstruction, accused of faking a ransom note to mislead investigators. She also has told authorities that Zahra Baker was dismembered after she died, but no cause of death has been publicly revealed.
The girl's father, Adam Baker, is free on bond after being jailed on charges unrelated to his daughter's disappearance and death.
Adam Baker emigrated to the U.S. from Australia in 2008 after meeting Elisa Baker online.
Zahra's biological mother, Dietrich, from Wagga Wagga in New South Wales province, has said she suffered postnatal depression after Zahra's birth and handed over custody to Adam Baker. Later, though, she decided she wanted to be in the girl's life and spent years trying to track the pair.
She said she discovered Zahra was living in the U.S. just three days before she was reported missing.
In her journal, Dietrich wrote that the day after arriving in Hickory, she said she was overwhelmed with emotion when she saw notes, balloons and stuffed animals at a makeshift memorial set up under a tree outside Zahra's house.
"I tried to get out of the car, but my entire body was shaking so much I was having trouble standing," she wrote.
She said she was comforted by the notes and expressions of support from so many people, but sickened by the sight of the house where Zahra may have spent her final days.
"She had laughed and cried and grown in this house. She had also been mistreated and abused in this house," she wrote. "She had, by all accounts, been kept like a prisoner in this house. This house made me so insanely angry, and sick, and lost."