Playground Built in Memory of 10-Year-Old Zahra Baker
More than 300 volunteers pounded nails, drilled wood and moved dirt to build the "Zahra Baker All Children's Playground" at Kiwanis Park in Hickory.
Nancy Hall and her husband Bob are from Hickory. Each week on their way to church, they pass the house where Zahra lived.
"I really wanted to come here and just help with this - and for children to be given this beautiful opportunity to play whether they are handicapped or not," said Nancy Hall. "It just brings tears to my eyes. She was such a cute little girl and didn't deserve this."
The site will honor the memory of Zahra Baker, who was killed by her stepmother in 2010 at the age of 10.
"And it is an opportunity to share with our children and grandchildren how out of a horrible tragedy, something truly magnificent can come," said Bob Hall.
Last weekend, people from as far away as South Carolina came to help with this build in Kiwanis Park, a residential part of Hickory. Many wore gray "Team Zahra" t-shirts with a picture of the little freckle-faced girl on the front and a list of sponsors on the back.
Carlos Huitrone of Hickory helped paint the pavilion and picnic tables. He says the project will continue helping the community heal.
"It's like an angel over this project. We can feel it, we can sense it and everybody you see around here has a smile. She may not be here physically but she is spiritually. It's going to bring a smile to thousands and thousands of people," said Huitrone.
Bright blue, green, orange and purple equipment is being installed. Purple was one of Zahra's favorite colors.
A 50-foot hill slide and sand box is also being constructed. Kiwanis Club member and Steering Committee Chairman Steve Aaron said this site is special - because it's also handicap accessible.
"We chose this design as a fitting memorial to her to accommodate children with disabilities," said Aaron. "Children in wheelchairs - - rather than having to use transfer points, they can actually roll right on to the equipment and go down the slide. There is even a swing so children in wheelchairs can enjoy the sensation of swinging."
Community members and local organizations have raised more than $200,000 to buy equipment and other items.
Annette Setzer is the marketing director at Chick-fil-A in Hickory, which donated food and money for the project. She said support for the playground came from some unexpected places.
"I went to Alexander Correctional Facility - to the inmates - and gave them information. About three weeks later they called me over and gave me a check for $1,000. Prisoners, people who didn't have any money, wanted to do things with us. This park is about children, it's about our community. It's not about black, white or purple or pink or rich or poor. Zahra became ours at that time and she still is ours and always will be," said Setzer.
On October 9, 2010, Zahra's father reported her missing from their Hickory home. City police chief Tom Adkins appealed to the public for help.
We didn't know exactly what we had. We discovered the ransom note and didn't know if there was some type of abduction of the child," said Adkins.
Towards the end of the month, investigators found a prosthetic leg and matched the serial number to the one belonging to Zahra. She was a bone cancer survivor and lost a leg to the disease. The Australian girl's step-mother, Elisa Baker, was eventually convicted of murdering and dismembering the child. Elisa Baker is serving 15-18 years in prison.
Hickory Police also say Zahra was physically abused by her stepmother. Betsy Cromer from Statesville, who helped put the playground swings together, hopes the playground will help other children speak out if they're in danger.
"Just to be able to have kids laughing here is wonderful. I hope people will tell the story of Zahra to kids at the playground. Maybe if something is wrong, it will help them tell an adult or teacher if something isn't right before something tragic happens," said Cromer.
The "Zahra Baker All Children's Playground" will feature a plaque with a picture of its namesake. The site's official opening is May 19.
The Kiwanis Club of Catawba County says it will use some of the money left over from the project to help fund a scholarship in Zahra's name.
The Caldwell County Sheriff's Office confirms that skeletal remains have been found northeast of Lenoir - but they don't know if they are those of Zahra.