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Hickory man donates $25,000 for Zahra Baker playground

HICKORY - A Hickory man is making a big donation to a playground being built in honor of Zahra Baker.

Jim Shuford has pledged to give $25,000 to the Zahra Baker All-Children's Playground.

The gift is in honor of Shuford's 11-year-old daughter. Shuford presented the check to Western Catawba County Kiwanis member Steve Aaron and Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright.

"What happened to Zahra Baker was a tragedy, and when her photo kept reappearing in the news, my heart sank even more as one of my daughter's is Zahra's age and they both have a beautiful freckled-face with dimples, similar hair and a great big smile," said Shuford in a statement.

The playground will be a large 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 also will be handicapped accessible and usable, meaning wheelchairs won't get stuck in sand. Zahra battled cancer and walked with a prosthetic leg.

With Shuford's donation, about $200,000 has been raised for the playground.

Zahra was reported missing in October 2010. Parts of the girl's body were found weeks later, dismembered and scattered.

Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, was sentenced to 15 to 18 years in prison in September after pleading guilty to second-degree murder. But in an interview with the Observer in October, Baker insisted she was innocent.

The case of the little girl with the freckled face drew worldwide attention. Many say they were inspired by how she'd fought two bouts of cancer and wore a prosthesis after losing her leg. She also had a hearing impairment.

The Observer contributed to this story.
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