CHARLOTTE (AP) — A missing 10-year-old may have been alive when her family moved to a new home in North Carolina in mid-September, police said Thursday.
Investigators are having trouble finding anyone outside Zahra Clare Baker's household in Hickory who has seen the girl alive in recent months, making it difficult to narrow down places to search.
Police say the girl, who used hearing aids and a prosthetic leg because of bone cancer, has been killed. She was reported missing over the weekend by her father and stepmother, but police do not believe their story about the last time they saw her in her bed.
Deputy Chief Clyde Deal would not elaborate about why authorities think the girl was alive when the family moved from the nearby town of Sawmills.
Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, is jailed, accused of trying to throw off investigators with a fake ransom note. She also faces charged unrelated to the case.
Investigators drained a pond and used a dog to sniff through piles of mulch and tree-trimming equipment, but they have not yet found her body.
Elisa Baker showed little emotion Wednesday as she faced a judge over an obstruction charge that could bring her up to 30 months in prison if convicted. Her court-appointed attorney, Scott Reilly, said she was "scared to death" and very emotional about everything.
"She's upset about being held in jail. She's upset about being away from her family," he said.
That portrait of the concerned stepmother contradicts how relatives and former neighbors described Baker. They said in interviews and court documents that she was nasty-tempered and violent and often took her rage out on Zahra.
At a vigil Wednesday night, about 150 people sang religious songs, held hands and implored each other to love their children and report signs of child abuse to authorities. The case has disturbed Hickory, a city of about 40,000, some 50 miles northwest of Charlotte.
David King, a deacon at East Hickory Baptist Church, said everyone is praying for her.
"Kids should be having fun. No one should have to go through what she did," he said. "This is just a tragedy."