Hickory, N.C. — Hickory police said Friday afternoon that they have recovered enough physical evidence to conclude that Zahra Baker, 10, is dead.
"I've been dreading the moment since early on in this investigation," said Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins.
The girl's father and stepmother reported her missing from their Hickory home on Oct. 9, but police said they doubt the couple's story. Zahra's mother, who lives in Australia, traveled to North Carolina this week to provide DNA to help in identifying any remains found.
Zahra had bone cancer and walked using a prosthetic leg, which searchers found more than a week ago. Other human remains – consistent with a child – were located Wednesday near Dudley Shoals Drive in Caldwell County and were sent to the Office of the State Medical Examiner, police said.
Adkins said a bone found by investigators matched DNA found on Zahra's personal effects from the home where she lived with her father and stepmother.
Until the State Bureau of Investigation completes a DNA profile of Zahra, an official conclusion can not be reached, Adkins said.
Officials said that Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, suggested crews look near Dudley Shoals Drive. Police have charged Elisa Baker with obstruction of justice in the case and have said she admitted to writing a bogus ransom note.
Zahra's father, Adam Baker, 33, met with police for about an hour Thursday, along with his attorney. Adam Baker was arrested Oct. 25 on charges unrelated to Zahra's disappearance. He has since been released on bond.
"Investigators, agents, officers and staff who worked on this case are devastated that they were not able to find Zahra alive and bring her home safely," Adkins said.
The news about Zahra hit the community hard.
Connelly Springs Resident Angela Cates said she couldn't understand how anyone could hurt a child who had suffered as much as Zahra.
"I hope she didn't suffer for what she had to go through," said Kathy Estes of Catawba County.
The story also attracted the attention of Australian media, who were in Hickory on Friday.
Earlier Friday, Zahra's mother, Emily Dietrich, read a letter written by another child and left at a memorial site outside the home where Zahra lived with her father and stepmother.
"You are probably with the angels in heaven. I know God is taking great care of you," the letter stated.
Dietrich said she suffered post-natal depression after Zahra's birth, and gave custody to her father. She said she did not know her daughter had moved to the United States until three days before she went missing.
The Children Protection Council of Catawba County had planned a candlelight vigil on Tuesday, which would have been Zahra’s 11th birthday.