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North Carolina community remembers Zahra Baker

By the CNN Wire Staff
Resident of Hickory, North Carolina, hold a vigil Tuesday night to celebrate the life of Zahra Baker.
Resident of Hickory, North Carolina, hold a vigil Tuesday night to celebrate the life of Zahra Baker.
  • The remains of Zahra Baker were discovered last week
  • She was reported missing in early October
  • The girl would have turned 11 on Tuesday
  • "We have ... become better people because of her," police chief says

For more on this story, go to WCNC and WSOC

Hickory, North Carolina (CNN) -- Residents of Hickory, North Carolina, held a candlelight vigil to celebrate the life of Zahra Baker, the freckle-faced girl authorities discovered dead more than a month after she was reported missing.

Zahra would have turned 11 on Tuesday, police said.

"Thirty-nine days ago, most of us did not know Zahra Baker. But over more than a month, we have all fallen in love with her and become better people because of her," said Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins.

The girl's stepmother, Elisa Baker, reported Zahra missing on October 9. Elisa Baker was arrested the next day, after police said she admitted to writing a fake ransom note found at the family's home in Hickory. No one other than a relative had seen Zahra since September 25.

At the vigil, people lit candles and prayed. They sang "Happy Birthday" and released white balloons and balloons that said "Happy Birthday."

What happened to Zahra Baker?

Adkins spoke about the young girl's strength of spirit, her bubbling personality and the desire she had to be just like any other child. He did not address the investigation into her death.

Zahra lost part of her left leg at age 5 and lost hearing in both ears while being treated for cancer. Both her biological parents were from Australia.

The girl's father, Adam Troy Baker, was arrested in late October in nearby Catawba County on eight charges: five counts of writing bad checks and three counts of failing to appear in court. Authorities said the charges were unrelated to Zahra's disappearance, and he was later released on bail.

His wife, Elisa Baker, remains in jail. Besides an obstruction of justice charge for the ransom note, she is accused of writing worthless checks. Police said she has been cooperating with investigators, including going with them to a search site.

Her sister, April Fairchild, attended the vigil.

"It was amazing," she said. "It's such an inspiration to see the support."

Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright was also there and spoke about Zahra. He said her tragic death brought out the best of the community, though most people never knew her.

"In her photos, we can see the resiliency she surely had and we wish we could hold her and give her love and security," he said. "Zahra is in a better place tonight."

CNN's Natisha Lance contributed to this report.