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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Zahra Claire Baker: Missing For A Month! N.C.'s Poor Amber Alert System!

North Carolina Police: "No One Has Seen Missing N.C. Girl In A Month."

The Stepmother of a missing 10-year-old North Carolina girl has admitted writing a ransom note found at the family's home, authorities said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Hickory, North Carolina, Police Chief Tom Adkins said investigators have been unable to find anyone outside Zahra Clare Baker's immediate family who has seen her in the last month.

"We cannot confirm with any confidence how long Zahra has been missing," he said.

The investigation has shifted from a possible abduction into a Homicide probe, he said, and an Amber Alert issued for the girl on Saturday will be canceled.

Elisa Baker, Zahra's stepmother, made the admission in an interview Monday night at the detention center where she is held on charges unrelated to Zahra's disappearance, Adkins told reporters. She then requested an attorney, he said.

Police have obtained an arrest warrant for Elisa Baker on a Felony charge of obstruction of justice, Adkins said.

The chief said residents want to form search teams to look for Zahra, but said since police do not know when the child disappeared, they cannot select an area to search.

Adkins asked for anyone who has seen Zahra in the last month to come forward.

Investigators have learned that an inspection may have been scheduled at the home, and are interested in speaking with the inspector, he said.

Zahra was reported missing about 2 p.m. Saturday. Police have said her father, Adam Baker, and stepmother reported she was last seen sleeping in her bed about 12 hours earlier, at 2:30 a.m.

According to a search warrant filed in the case, firefighters responded to a "fire on a mulch pile" at the home about 5:30 a.m. Saturday. Adkins said "some evidence" was recovered from the scene.

Firefighters found a Chevrolet Tahoe with its passenger door open and a Duke Power envelope with handwriting on the front windshield, the search warrant said. They notified police, who approached the SUV and smelled the odor of gasoline coming from inside.

The note written on the envelope was addressed to a "Mr. Coffey," identified in the search warrant as Adam Baker's boss, Mark David Coffey.

"Mr. Coffey, you like being in control now who is in control," the note said, according to the search warrant. "We have your daughter and your pot smoking red head son is next unless you do what is asked 1,000,000 unmarked will be in touch soon." In the bottom right, the note said, "no cops," according to the warrant.

Coffee and his only daughter were at the residence at the time of the fire, the warrant said. CNN affiliate News 14 Carolina reported Coffey owns the home.

Adam Baker called police about 2 p.m., saying someone had poured gas in his car and left a note saying they had his boss' daughter, according to the search warrant. Baker told police he believed the person who left the note had kidnapped Zahra.

The Bakers consented to a search of their home, the warrant said. A cadaver dog indicated the possible presence of human remains in or on the Chevrolet Tahoe as well as a burgundy Toyota Camry on the property, it said. Authorities were testing swabs taken from the Tahoe to determine if blood was also present, according to the warrant.

The girl -- a bone cancer survivor, according to CNN affiliate WCNC -- uses a prosthetic leg and hearing aids. The hearing aids have been found, but not the prosthesis, Adkins said.

Elisa Baker was arrested Sunday morning on four counts of writing worthless checks, said Eric Farr, a spokesman for the Catawba County District Attorney's office. Farr said she faces other charges in different counties, including a felony larceny count and other bad-check charges. She is being held on $31,500 bail.

Her court-appointed attorney on the Felony charge, Jared Amos of Morganton, North Carolina, said Tuesday he could not comment on the case, as his representation is limited to that charge.

Adkins said Adam Baker faces similar charges, but police have held off serving an arrest warrant while he cooperates with police.

One of Zahra's relatives told CBS earlier Tuesday the girl had a "horrible home life" and was frequently locked in her room.

Brittany Bentley, who is married to Elisa Baker's nephew, told the "Early Show" that every time she was in the Bakers' home, Zahra was locked in her room and allowed out for five minutes a day to eat. She also said she believed the girl was physically abused, saying Elisa Baker would "get mad, she'd take it out on Zahra, things the kid didn't deserve ... she just had a horrible home life."

Police said in a statement they are are "working several leads, specifically addressing Zahra's life before she disappeared."

The family was reported to child welfare authorities, Bentley said, but "I don't know how much was done."

North Carolina's social services system is state-supervised but county-administered, meaning reports are handled in the county where they are made, said Lori Walston, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. However, she said workers are bound by strict confidentiality laws and would not be able to comment on the case.

Bentley's mother, Kim Drum, told CBS that Zahra frequently spent the night in her home, and said the girl would always take her prosthetic leg off when she put on her pyjamas. She said when she heard the prosthesis had not been found, she knew something was wrong.

"She was a happy child," Bentley told the "Early Show." "... She was an amazing child."

She said the only time she ever saw Zahra angry was "when it was time for her to go home ... I understand why she didn't want to go home, because her home life was miserable."

An emotional Adam Baker told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday he can't be sure his wife is not involved in Zahra's disappearance. "Until they've completed their investigation and can tell me some more, I can't honestly say," he said.

Zahra is described as being about 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighing 85 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes.

The FBI is assisting Hickory police in the investigation, officials said. Authorities ask anyone with information to contact the Hickory Police Department.

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Sources: CNN, News 14 Carolina, WCNC, WRAL, Google Maps

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