HICKORY, N.C. -- Hundreds of people packed Hickory's Union Square Tuesday evening to remember Zahra Baker on what would have been her 11th birthday.
Though police now say Zahra is dead, the birth date of the once-missing child was an opportunity for the strangers who've been touched by the story of her disapperance to celebrate her life. Many people traveled from miles--even states--away to light candles in Zahra's memory at a vigil in central downtown Hickory.
"My wife and I just felt we had to be here," said Tom Trinchera, who came from Johnson City, Tennessee.
Hickory's mayor Rudy White spoke, as well as Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins.
"39 days ago, most of us did not know Zahra Baker, but in this past month, we have fallen in love with her and we are better people because of it," Chief Adkins said. He relayed stories he's heard from Zahra's friends and family during the investigation into her death. "Nothing would slow her down. She wanted no pity. She wanted to be like every other child."
"As you pass that flame on to your neighbor," explained Adrienne Opdyke, of the Catawba County Children's Protection Council, as participants lit candles, "Promise not to forget Zahra's story and promise to make a difference in the lives of the children that you know."
Zahra's stepmother's sister, April Fairchild, was at the vigil. She says her rocky relationship with her sister kept her from knowing Zahra well, but she describes this time as "painful" for her family.
"All we have ever wanted is just closure," she said. She said her sister Elisa, suspected but not charged in Zahra's disappearance, deserves punishment if its due, but "Adam Baker deserves to be sitting right beside of her...I just pray that just like everything else, Hickory Police Department, all of the law enforcement, all of the people who have helped--shed tears--about this case, does not let this fall through the cracks like she fell through the cracks with DSS."