After months of speculation, tests have confirmed that a human skull found in a wooded area in Caldwell County last spring is that of 10-year-old Zahra Baker.
But tests of the skull offered no clues about how the girl was killed, Hickory police said Thursday.
Zahra drew attention from across the world in October 2010 when she was reported missing by her father.
Hopes for finding her alive were dashed weeks later when Zahras stepmother led investigators to where they found pieces of the girls dismembered body. But much of the girls remains, including her skull, were not recovered at the time.
Then, in April 2012, a hunter found what appeared to be a human skull along Winkler Way near N.C. 268, about seven miles from Lenoir.
Speculation at the time linked the skull to Zahra, but law enforcement officials said they couldnt be sure until a state crime labs analysis was complete. That confirmation from the State Bureau of Investigation came Wednesday.
The bureau, along with the N.C. Medical Examiners Office and scientists at Marshall University in West Virginia, compared the skull to a DNA profile created during the murder investigation.
Hickory police Chief Tom Adkins said the news of the skull confirmation brought mixed emotions.
It brings up the tragedy of Zahras death and the life she lived before she was killed, Adkins said. But it also gives us and the community a sense of finally bringing her home.
Zahra was born in Australia, but she came to the United States with her father in 2008 after hed married Elisa Baker. The freckled-face girl survived two bouts of cancer that left her without one leg and with a hearing problem.
A massive search was launched after Zahra was reported missing. But a couple of weeks later, Elisa Baker led investigators to three sites where some of her body parts had been discarded. That November, police announced that test results confirmed one of the recovered bones was Zahras.
Elisa Baker pleaded guilty in September 2011 to second-degree murder in connection with Zahras death. She was sentenced to 15 to 18 years in prison.
Zahras father, Adam Baker, was not charged in Zahras death, with prosecutors saying they had no credible evidence to suggest anyone other than Elisa Baker was involved in the murder.
Adam Baker was deported to his native Australia in 2012. He was allowed to take some of Zahras remains with him.
On Thursday, authorities said they were working to return Zahras other remains to her family.
Our county and all the folks who worked on this case are reminded of the days spent trying to find Zahra, Caldwell Sheriff Alan Jones said Thursday. She will be in our memories for the rest of our lives.