Thursday, October 28, 2010

Prosthetic leg, thought to be that of missing NC girl, found

From CNN:

A prosthetic leg thought to be that of missing 10-year-old Zahra Baker (pictured) has been found in a brushy area off a North Carolina road, Chief Tom Adkins of the Hickory, North Carolina, police said Oct. 27.

Police launched a search for Zahra on October 9, but no one other than a family member has reported seeing her since September 25, when a woman saw her at a furniture store. The girl's disappearance is now being probed as a homicide.

Adkins said that the prosthetic leg is "consistent with" that of Zahra, a freckle-faced youngster who lost her leg to bone cancer at age 5 and developed lung cancer a few years later, according to CNN affiliate WCNC.

The prosthetic was found late Tuesday afternoon off Christie Road in Caldwell County, he said, and authorities are using its serial number to confirm it belonged to the young girl. Zahra got the leg in Australia, where both her birth parents are from.

Meanwhile, authorities focused anew Wednesday on the Hickory home that Zahra Baker lived in with her father, Adam Troy Baker, and her stepmother, Elisa Baker.

A backhoe and other construction machinery began digging into grounds around the family's home early in the morning, with investigators using rakes to comb through the dug-up dirt and with police dogs canvassing the area. Additionally, police removed at least one bag of evidence from the house Wednesday morning.

"New information" led to the renewed search inside and outside the home, said Adkins.

"We're looking for any piece of evidence that can help in that investigation," he added.

A day earlier, employees at Foothills Environmental Landfill in Lenoir, North Carolina, found a mattress that investigators believe belonged to Zahra and was thrown out by her parents in early October -- just days before she was reported missing.

The disappearance of Zahra, who had persevered through numerous health battles and wore hearing aids, has made international news.

Police said the missing girl's stepmother, Elisa Baker, admitted last week that she planted a fake ransom note the day after the girl's disappearance was reported.

Initially arrested on October 10 on several charges unrelated to Zahra's disappearance, including writing worthless checks, Elisa Baker was additionally charged with obstruction of justice for leaving the note. That charge is a felony.

She is now cooperating with investigators, Hickory police said in a statement issued Tuesday. The previous day, she had joined police as they searched for evidence at a site near a home she lived in three years ago.

Zahra's father was arrested just after 3 a.m. Monday in nearby Catawba County on eight charges, including five counts of submitting worthless checks and three counts of failing to appear in court.

Police earlier acknowledged that Adam Baker faced bad-check charges, which are unrelated to the disappearance of his daughter. But they did not initially arrest him, as he had been helping authorities in their search.

Adam Baker was at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport picking up a family member Sunday before he voluntarily went to the Police Department in Hickory, about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte, to talk to authorities.

Family members and neighbors have told reporters that Zahra's stepmother abused her. Her attorney has denied the allegation.

Police have said they had been in contact with Zahra's biological mother in Australia and asked for the girl's medical records.