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Search on for disabled NC girl; parents questioned

A hearing-impaired girl with a prosthetic leg vanished over the weekend, and her father said Monday it was possible his wife was involved in the disappearance.

The 10-year-old girl's stepmother, Elisa Baker, was being held by police on a dozen charges unrelated to the disappearance of Zahra Clare Baker. The child, who has been treated for bone cancer, was reported missing Saturday afternoon in Hickory in western North Carolina, several hours after a backyard fire was reported at the family's home.

Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said investigators were interviewing teachers to find out more about Zahra's life before she disappeared and following other leads, but he wouldn't say what those were.

Zahra's father, Adam Baker, told ABC's "Good Morning America" he hadn't seen his wife much since police were called.

"I just hope I can get my daughter back. I miss her so much," he said, choking up, as he was interviewed alongside the Hickory police chief.

The girl's stepmother told her husband she last saw Zahra sleeping in her bed around 2:30 a.m. Saturday, about 2 1/2 hours before the fire was reported. Adam Baker said he was panicked after the fire, but didn't check on his daughter.

The FBI was involved in the investigation, and police have collected surveillance video from businesses near the family's home and used dogs to search the neighborhood. The police chief wouldn't rule out any suspects, including Adam Baker.

"As the time progresses, we might be able to rule out folks. But right now, every possibility is out there," Adkins said.

Adam Baker was asked if he thought his wife was involved and said, "I wouldn't like to think so. On what I've heard so far, it could be possible."

The chief wouldn't let Baker elaborate on what he had heard because of the ongoing investigation.

Former neighbor Kayla Rotenberry said she and her fiance were good friends with the Bakers when they lived in the nearby town of Sawmills, and saw Zahra often. The couple was skeptical of the girl's stepmother, in part because she claimed to write songs for musician and "American Idol" finalist Chris Daughtry, and told other far-fetched stories, Rotenberry said.

"We just got to the point where we didn't believe her. We knew they were lies," said Rotenberry, 23.

The stepmother also had a short temper, Rotenberry said.

"She wasn't as nice as she seemed," she said.

Zahra uses hearing aids in both ears and a prosthetic left leg from the knee down. She doesn't have her hearing aids with her, police said. She was being home-schooled, but had attended public schools in the past.

The child had lost part of her hearing during chemotherapy for two bouts of cancer, her stepmother told the Independent-Tribune of Concord-Kannapolis in a May interview. The newspaper reported that Elisa Baker fought back tears while the girl was fitted for the hearing aids during a charity event.

Current neighbor Eddie Mitchell, 68, said the Bakers had lived in Hickory for only a couple of months.

"I hope the kid is all right. It's just very strange," he said.

Elisa Baker was arrested Sunday on charges including communicating threats, writing worthless checks, larceny and driving with a revoked license.

It was unclear whether she has an attorney.

She has two daughters and a son from a previous marriage. The mother and son don't have much of a relationship, the man said, after he stayed with his father when they divorced. The daughters went to live with their mother.

Still, 22-year-old Douglas Proctor said he had spoken to investigators about his mother and was dismayed over news of the case.

"It's not something that you want to open up a paper and see," he said, adding he'd met Zahra only once.

Adam Baker was from Australia, and met his current wife over the Internet, said former neighbor Brandy Stapleton, 22, of Lenoir.

Hickory, a city of 40,000 residents, is about 50 miles north-northwest of Charlotte.

___

Associated Press Writers Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., and Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

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