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Skull found in 2012 confirmed to be Zahra Baker

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HICKORY, NC (WBTV) -

Hickory Police Department and the Caldwell County Sheriff's Office say the NC State Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that a skull found off of Winkler Way near Hwy 268 in April 2012 was Zahra Baker's remains.

According to Hickory police, the NC SBI's Crime Lab, NC Medical Examiner's Office and Marshall University in Huntington, WV were able compare a DNA profile used for the prosecution of Elisa Baker in Zahra's murder case to the skull found in Caldwell County to confirm the findings. 

The examination of the skull was unable to provide any further details on how Zahra was murdered, police told WBTV.

"The life and death of Zahra Baker profoundly impacted those who came to know this brave young lady through her tragic story. Zahra and her life will be forever in our thoughts and "Team Zahra" will forever be connected through her spirit" said District Attorney James Gaither, Jr.

"This information gives the members of ‘Team Zahra' mixed emotions" said Chief of Police Tom Adkins. 

"It brings up the tragedy of Zahra's death and the life she lived before she was killed but it also gives us and the community a sense of finally bringing her home". 

Sheriff Alan Jones of Caldwell County said, "Our County and all the folks who worked on this case are reminded of the days spent trying to find Zahra.  She will be in our memories for the rest of our lives."

Family members along with the Australian Consulate had to be notified prior to releasing the information to the public.  The remains will be returned to the appropriate family members with the assistance of the Consulate.

Family in Australia emailed WBTV's Steve Ohnesorge saying the news was unexpected, "Now finally we can move foward, as this was the last thing we were waiting for. She will never be forgotten nor does she deserve to be now."

Zahra was 10 years old when she was killed and dismembered in October 2010. Parts of her body were found in multiple sites around Catawba and Caldwell counties months after her disappearance.

Many people in the community were inspired by the young girl, and several projects were started in her honor.

In 2011, a new law was enacted in North Carolina and has become known as "Zahra's Law", or House Bill 227.

The law makes it a felony to disturb or dismember human remains.

According to the law, "any person who, with the intent to conceal the death of a person, fails to notify a law enforcement authority of the death or secretly buries or otherwise secretly disposes of a dead human body is guilty of a Class I felony."

The law also includes punishment for anyone who "attempts to conceal evidence of the death of another by knowingly and willfully dismembering or destroying human remains, by any means, including removing body parts or otherwise obliterating any portion thereof, shall be guilty of a Class H felony."

A playground was built in Zahra's honor at Kiwanis Park in Hickory, in 2012. The playground opened in May and was built with more than $200,000 in donations from citizens and businesses throughout the area.

Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, pled guilty to second degree murder with aggravating factors in September 2011. She was sentenced to up to 18 years in prison.

Zahra's father, Adam Baker, was not charged in the case. Investigators and the District Attorney said there was no evidence to show he was involved in the girl's death or dismemberment.

Elisa Baker is still awaiting sentencing in her federal drug conspiracy case which she has already pleaded guilty.

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