SYDNEY — The Australian mother of a 10-year-old disabled girl who was murdered by her American stepmother in Hickory said Tuesday she has no idea what became of her daughter's ashes since the child's father brought them to Australia.
Attorney Shell Pearce said Monday that his client, Adam Baker, left the United States roughly two weeks ago at the behest of U.S. federal immigration officials, bringing the remains of his daughter, Zahra, with him for burial in Australia.
However, Vincent Picard, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an email Monday that Baker had "voluntarily departed" the U.S., which Pearce disputed.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement Tuesday that "Mr. Baker was deported from the United States to Australia in January." The department provided no other details.
Zahra's biological mother Emily Dietrich said her daughter's remains might have been buried in Australia without her knowledge.
"I don't have her remains and I don't even know if she's been buried at this point," Dietrich told Seven Network television.
Dietrich, from the rural town of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales state, last saw Zahra as a baby. Dietrich had been suffering postnatal depression and gave custody of her newborn to the father.
Dietrich rejected the prospect of dividing the ashes with Adam Baker.
"The way that her murder was carried out, splitting her ashes just seemed so tasteless," Dietrich said. "She's already in pieces."
Police concluded that Zahra was dismembered after dying of causes that are still undetermined.
Dietrich was in North Carolina court in September last year to see Zahra's stepmother Elisa Baker sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in Zahra's death.
Adam Baker moved to North Carolina in 2008 after marrying Elisa, whom he met online.
In October 2010, Baker and his wife reported that Zahra, who had a prosthetic leg and hearing aids after a battle with cancer, was missing from their home in Hickory. The story that Zahra had been kidnapped quickly fell apart, and Elisa Baker was jailed on a charge of interfering with a police investigation.
Police eventually found some of Zahra's remains, although they never located her head.
Pearce said he didn't want to reveal Baker's exact location in Australia.
Baker was facing misdemeanor charges in the United States which were unrelated to his daughter's death. Picard said local authorities knew of the plans for him to return to Australia before the cases were resolved.
"Local authorities were notified of Mr. Baker's return plans at least 48 hours prior to his departure and indicated that they had no interest in pursuing his case," Picard wrote.