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911 tapes: Dad had theory on abduction

In initial call to police, Adam Baker says Zahra may have been mistaken target of kidnappers.

By Franco Ordoñez
fordonez@charlotteobserver.com

Hickory police on Tuesday released recordings of two emergency calls made from Zahra Baker's home the day the 10-year-old girl was reported missing.

The calls shed new light on what Zahra's parents claim happened Oct. 9, and how an early morning fire and a phony ransom note might have been linked to her disappearance.

The Bakers' description of events suggests that Zahra might have been kidnapped while her father and stepmother were dealing with a fire in the back yard of their Hickory house. The Bakers also reported that kidnappers might have taken Zahra by mistake in an attempt to abduct the daughter of Baker's boss and landlord, Mark Coffey.

"I don't know if they set a fire in the yard to distract us to go out, and they snuck in the door," Adam Baker said of possible kidnappers in his 911 call.

"It appears they may have taken my daughter instead of his daughter."

The release of the recordings came on the 11th day of the search for the little girl with freckles who was hearing impaired and lost part of one leg to bone cancer. The case has drawn international attention. Newspapers in Australia, where Zahra was born, have been publishing daily updates.

Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, has been charged with felony obstruction of justice and is now in jail. She was arrested after police say she admitted writing the phony ransom note, which they say was intended to throw off the investigation into Zahra's disappearance.

Elisa Baker, 42, is scheduled to appear in Catawba County court this morning to request a reduction of her $40,000 bond.

Investigators say they believe Zahra is dead and continue to seek the public's help in piecing together a timeline of events surrounding the girl's disappearance. The last person outside Zahra's family whom police can confirm saw the girl alive was an employee at a Hickory furniture store, who reported seeing Zahra shopping with her stepmother on Sept. 25.

Zahra was reported missing two weeks later.

The first 911 call from the Bakers came around 5:30 a.m. that Saturday, when Elisa Baker sounded anxious as she asked for help.

"Our backyard's on fire," she told dispatchers. "...We've got big mulch piles and wood piles and firewood and stuff." Firefighters and police responded, and while they were there found a handwritten ransom note on the windshield of the Bakers' SUV parked at the house. The note was addressed to "Mr. Coffey" and said kidnappers had his daughter and wanted $1 million.

When police checked, they found Coffey's family was unharmed.

The second 911 call came from Zahra's father at 1:58 p.m. that day.

He was polite and calm as he spoke to the dispatcher.

"Where is your emergency?"

"Yeah, my daughter is missing," said Adam Baker, 33.

"What is your address?"

"21st Avenue Northwest. The police were out here last night over a fire and ransom note for my boss's daughter. I got up a little while ago and it appears they took my daughter instead of my boss's daughter."

He explained how someone had poured gasoline on a company vehicle that he parked at his house, and that it might have been a diversion so kidnappers could enter his home.

Adam Baker told the dispatcher that maybe the kidnappers were confused.

"I guess they thought he (Coffey) lives in this house," Baker said.

Coffey owns the house, rented by the Bakers. Adam Baker worked for Coffey at a tree-trimming business that has a storage lot in Burke County - a site authorities have repeatedly searched for signs of Zahra.

Baker went on to tell the dispatcher that he last checked on his daughter about 2:30 a.m. that day - 12 hours before his 911 call.

"We had all that drama last night," he said. "And me and my wife went back to bed. And my daughter is, I think, coming into puberty. So she's hitting that brooding stage (chuckles). So we only see her when she wants something."

Adam Baker has not been charged in connection with his daughter's disappearance.

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