HICKORY, N.C. -- After more than four months of waiting, charges were filed Monday in connection with the death of 10-year-old Zahra Baker, and many Hickory residents said, "It's about time."
Elisa Baker, Zahra's stepmother, is now charged with second-degree murder in the case. An autopsy released Monday afternoon listed Zahra's cause of death as "undetermined homicidal violence." It also showed that the girl's body had been dismembered after she died.
Police and the district attorney did not give many new details Monday, but they indicated that Baker was the only suspect in the case.
"Not every case is clear cut, and only the facts and evidence of the case can dictate who is charged and for what offenses," said Hickory police Chief Tom Adkins. "Not a day goes by that members of this team of professionals have not thought of Zahra or this case."
Zahra Baker only lived in the city of Hickory for a few weeks, but her story touched the hearts of the community.
"That's a human being who was taken too soon, way too soon," said resident Melissa Lesbines.
The Hickory community has followed the twists and turns of the investigation since October 2010, when Zahra was reported missing.
Hickory's mayor said the news that Elisa Baker was charged with murder is, in many ways, a relief.
"I'm guessing that they knew that they had the person in custody who would most likely be charged and I think we were in a bigger hurry than the DA and the police," Mayor Rudy Wright said.
Lesbines said, "I'm glad that's she's going to be punished for what she did."
But the public isn't completely satisfied. Suspicions about Zahra's father, Adam, still linger.
"He's her father. You can't tell me that he didn't know what was going on. He knew," Lesbines said.
The second-degree murder indictment against Baker cites aggravating factors, saying she had a history of physically, verbally and psychologically abusing Zahra, who used a prosthetic leg and hearing aids after being stricken with cancer.
Two social services agencies said Monday they investigated reports just months before Zahra was killed that she was being improperly treated. Officials in Caldwell and Catawba Counties said investigators interviewed each family member in those cases but closed each one by concluding that there was no evidence of maltreatment or child safety issues.
The reports included allegations of improper discipline, improper care and an injurious environment.
Elisa Baker has claimed that her husband, Adam Baker, dismembered the body. Adam Baker has denied that.
A warrant in the case said cell phone records indicate Adam Baker was not in the locations where Zahra's remains were found on the day Elisa Baker indicated, but that cell phone records showed she was in those places.
Elisa Baker led a nomadic life, with dozens of different addresses over a seven-year period. She was also married seven times and was wed to more than one man on several occasions. She met Adam Baker, seven years her junior, on a website where users create three-dimensional characters to represent themselves.
Adam Baker is free on bond, facing numerous charges not related to his daughter. He moved to North Carolina with Zahra from Australia after meeting Elisa online.
(The Associated Press contributed.)