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Attorney denies abuse claims against missing girl's stepmother

By the CNN Wire Staff
No one has seen 10-year-old Zahra Baker since September 25, and the local sheriff believes she is dead.
No one has seen 10-year-old Zahra Baker since September 25, and the local sheriff believes she is dead.
  • NEW: Last sighting outside family is September 25 at a furniture store
  • Stepmother jailed on bad-check charges; missing girl thought dead
  • Attorney: "There was never anything substantiated regarding child abuse"
  • Attorney: Woman who says girl was kept in the attic "has squirrels in her head"

(CNN) -- The stepmother of a 10-year-old North Carolina girl reported missing more than a week ago never abused the girl despite allegations from relatives and friends of the family, the woman's attorney said Monday.

Attorney Scott Reilly said that "whatever investigation was done there was never anything substantiated regarding child abuse by Elisa Baker."

"The lady saying they were keeping Zahra in the attic, and they thought it was squirrels, that lady has squirrels in her head," Reilly said. "She had no business saying things that were untrue. Someone else says she was kept in a locked room and only allowed to come out five minutes a day to eat. Those people [reporting that information] should have their media credentials revoked."

Earlier, a relative said that the alleged abuse was reported to the state Department of Social Services but the relative did not know the outcome. The state office said such a report would have been handled by a county office but that the agency is barred from commenting because of strict confidentiality laws.

Burke County Sheriff John McDevitt has said she is believed to be dead. Her disappearance is being investigated as a homicide.

Deputy Sheriff Clyde Deal said the allegations of abuse would eventually be investigated.

Video: Mattress removed from home
Video: Did cops ignore girl's alleged abuse?
Video: Cops zero in on woodpile for Zahra

"Those are things that would have to be looked into down the road," he said. "This family didn't move in our jurisdiction until mid-July, so many of the allegations happened in other jurisdictions."

Zahra Baker was reported missing October 9, Burke County police said, and no one other than a family member has reported seeing her since September 25. At that time, said Deal, a woman reported seeing the girl at a furniture store.

Deal said authorities have been in contact with Zahra's mother, who lives in Australia, where the girl was born.

"We're speaking to her on a regular basis," Deal said. "She's very concerned, and she's very appreciative of everything being done to solve this case."

The deputy said authorities are not clear on the circumstances of the split between the mother and father.

Police said last week that the stepmother, Elisa Baker, admitted to writing a fake ransom note that was left at the family's home. She was arrested October 10 on an unrelated charge of passing bad checks, prosecutors said, and has been charged with obstructing justice for the fake ransom note.

Elisa Baker remains jailed on those charges. Her bail has been set at a combined $70,000, an amount her lawyer called excessive. Police said the girl's father, Adam Baker, also faces bad-check charges, but is not being arrested while he assists police.

Reilly said he filed a motion to reduce Elisa Baker's bond, and a hearing has been set for Wednesday.

Authorities have spent days combing an area about 20 miles north of Zahra's home in Hickory, North Carolina. Last week, as many as 70 searchers were backed by dogs and a backhoe that was used to clear piles of wood and mulch, McDevitt said.

Zahra reportedly suffered from bone cancer and used a prosthetic leg and hearing aids. The hearing aids have been found, but not the prosthesis, Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins has said.

Hickory is about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte.

HLN's Beth Carey and Natisha Lance contributed to this report.