Police canceled the Amber Alert issued for a missing Hickory girl and will instead investigate the case as a homicide.
Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said Tuesday that police will continue the case to locate 10-year-old Zahra Clare Baker as a murder investigation.
Adkins fought back tears Tuesday as he briefed local and national media during a late-morning press conference about the investigation.
Hickory Police were seen searching a site on Hartland Drive in North Morganton inside Burke County Tuesday evening. They were seen reviewing a wood chipper and mulch and brush piles at the location. Police would not comment on what they were searching for in Burke County.
Adkins said Baker's stepmother, Elisa Baker, admitted Monday night during questioning at the Catawba County Detention Center that she wrote a ransom note investigators found Saturday at the Baker household, located at 21 21st Ave. NW in Hickory.
The note claimed a girl was kidnapped and demanded $1 million in unmarked bills. Also written on the note were the words, "no cops."
After Elisa Baker admitted to writing the ransom note, she requested an attorney, Adkins said. Police then took out an arrest warrant on Elisa Baker for felony obstruction of justice. She is in Catawba County jail under a $71,500 bond, which also includes charges for driving with a revoked license and communicating threats.
Adkins appealed to the public for any information about Baker's whereabouts. No one outside Baker's immediate family can confirm they saw her within the last month.
"The problem is we cannot confirm with any confidence how long Zahra has been missing," Adkins said. "Without this information, we cannot positively select the area to search."
Neighbors said Tuesday they never knew a child lived at 21 21st Ave. NW.
Area residents said they never saw Baker outside or any toys in the yard to indicate a child lived in the home.
"I have never seen a child whatsoever of any age over there," said Jennie Bost, who lives next-door to the Bakers' house.
Bost said the family had a small puppy tied to a leash in the backyard, and when she heard about Baker's disappearance, she wondered why Baker never played in the backyard with the dog.
"Why would a little child not come out there and play with the puppy?" she said.
Bost said she saw Elisa Baker outside several times, but she never spoke to her.
"I would throw up my hand at her (when I went outside), but I never spoke to her," Bost said.
Bost and her husband have lived together on 21st Avenue for 20 years, and she never suspected anything like Baker's disappearance to happen in Hickory.
"My belief is that the child's never been over there, but that's just my belief," she said.
Devin Best, who works at Best Home Health Care across the street from the Baker house, said he never knew a child lived in the house.
"We never saw a child, and we never saw any toys," he said.
A group of people gathered Tuesday in the backyard of Baker's residence would not comment about the investigation or how they are related to Baker.
Mulching equipment, such as a wood chipper, was in the yard behind the house.
Police searched Bost's house and other homes in the area for any signs of Baker.
"They looked everywhere all over my house," Bost said. "We said you're welcome (to search) because we want to find the little girl, too."