HICKORY, N.C. -- Neighbors, city officials and local civic groups broke ground Wednesday on a playground for Zahra Baker on what would have been the murdered Hickory girl’s 12th birthday.
The playground is called Zahra Baker All Children’s Playground and will be built at Kiwanis Park on 7th Street S.E.
"We think people from hundreds of miles away will access this playground,” said Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright.
You could hear cheers and see smiles during the ceremony. In the year since her murder, that has not been a common combination. Disbelief, tears, prayers and anger were common reactions. That’s why neighbors say the groundbreaking felt good and bittersweet.
Major Clyde Deal helped send Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, to prison for the murder.
"It's good to have something positive come out of something negative,” Deal said.
“A great thing is coming out of a tragedy,” said Hickory Park and Recreation Director Mack McLeod.
The playground will be a 90-by-60-foot oval, filled with slides, swings and things to run on. In total, 144 kids will be able to play on it at the same time.
The park will include a plaque with Zahra Baker's picture on it. Neighbors say when their kids ask about Zahra Baker, the stories they tell will be about a little girl who persevered.
The park will also be handicapped accessible and usable, meaning wheelchairs won't get stuck in sand. Zahra battled cancer and walked with a prosthetic leg.
"She never let it stop her and that's why this playground is for able-bodied and physically challenged to play together,” McLeod said.
The park will also have a butterfly garden.
Girl Scout Phoebe Livingston, 14, is going to help build it for Zahra and all the other kids who come to the playground with Zahra’s name on it.
"We just really wanted some way to let her story live on so when people come to Hickory they don't just think that she was murdered,” Livingston said. “They think that some good came out of this because we helped other kids, but we still need to remember her.”
The playground is expected to be finished next spring. Neighbors and civic groups raised $122,000 to pay for it.