This week, for the first time, Emily Dietrich saw -- in person -- the woman who admitted responsibility for the death of her daughter, Zahra Baker.
The 10-year-old girl was reported missing from her Hickory home October 9, 2010, by her father and step-mother, Adam and Elisa Baker.
A month later, enough of the little girl’s remains – scattered across two counties – had been positively identified to confirm her death. An autopsy listed the cause of death as “undetermined homicidal violence,” and despite a plea deal, police still can’t say how she died.
The police search for Zahra came just as Dietrich had finally found the daughter she gave up ten years earlier at birth. She was ecstatic -- but only for a few days. Then she learned of Zahra’s disappearance and eventual death.
Thursday, Dietrich watched Elisa Baker plead guilty to second degree murder for Zahra’s death. Baker still claimed Zahra died of natural causes, but police said there is too much conflicting evidence to believe everything she’s said.
Sunday Dietrich sat down with NewsChannel 36 for her only American TV interview since the ordeal began.
She said in court Thursday she couldn’t look at Elisa Baker, only glare for a moment.
“I mainly wanted her to see me,” said Dietrich, “and for her to see the pain that she's caused on my face and my mother’s face.”
Dietrich expressed that while a plea deal isn’t a perfect resolution to Zahra’s case, it guarantees Elisa Baker will spend time in prison. Her biggest fear was that Baker would go to trial, be found not guilty, and go free.
But she still has unanswered questions — like why Zahra’s father, Adam Baker, didn’t do more to protect the little girl. Police say the evidence shows Adam Baker was not involved in Zahra’s death.
“I still hold a lot of resentment towards him,” Dietrich said forcefully.
In court, a police detective said Adam Baker admitted that he spent more time smoking pot than he did spending quality time with his daughter in the five months before her death.
He also admitted he didn’t realize Zahra was gone for two weeks after investigators determined she had died.
“There’s a big difference between being not guilty and being innocent,” she said, “and I don't think he is innocent of what happened. He had played all his own part.”
Dietrich said she hasn’t decided whether she wants to speak to Adam Baker again, even though she’s heard he wants to talk to her.
Dietrich knows people find fault with her, too, for allowing Adam Baker to take custody of Zahra shortly after her birth. Dietrich was 19 at the time, and had been engaged to Baker.
She said she suffered from overwhelming post-partum depression, and had only a short amount of time to make a decision. She felt Zahra would be safe with Adam Baker and his extensive family.
“I didn't have the strength to keep doing it,” she sobbed. “I didn't want to hate my child. I didn't want to be that news story people hear about -- the mother who drowns her child or couldn’t stop them crying or smothered them.”
Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I didn't want to be that mother,” she said. Then she added, tearfully, “I didn’t do it because I didn't love her, I did it because I DID love her.”
Dietrich said she had spent years trying to find Zahra, when a friend sent her a picture of the little girl holding a certificate from Granite Falls Elementary School. She was ecstatic.
Her happiness was short-lived, however – it was just days before Zahra was reported missing to police.
“She was already gone,” Dietrich cried. “The day we found her she was already gone. She was gone two weeks beforehand.”
The next thing Dietrich wants to do is bring Zahra’s remains home to be buried in Australia. It may involve one more custody battle with Adam Baker. Still, it looks good for her.
One parting satisfaction Dietrich has after the emotional rollercoaster this year has provided – she knows Elisa Baker is going to prison.
"I'm satisfied knowing that every day she's in there is going to be horrific,” she said, “and she's going to have to watch her back 24/7. Everything she's taken for granted is gone."
Emily Dietrich speaks for the first time
Diana Rugg: As you are leaving North Carolina after a very eventful year, how do you feel about leaving behind the last place that your daughter lived?
Emily Dietrich: It’s a hard one. My mother and I were a bit anxious about that this morning. I mean it was bad enough leaving last time when everything was so up in the air. But this time I guess it’s a bit of both. Knowing that I’m going away with a bit of a resolution to the situation and I’ve come to make friends here. And the place is actually familiar now, so It’s hard leaving it for that reason.
Diana Rugg: You mention resolution. There’s no such thing as closure I’ve heard you say. And it’s hard to feel satisfaction at this point. Is it a relief that it’s over?
Emily Dietrich: Part of it’s over anyway. Yeah it’s a relief. We were so scared that it was just going to continue on for years, and we thought this plea dealwe could’ve had appeal processes to go through.. and it could’ve dragged on forever, so it is a relief that it’s happened so quick and they’ve done such a good job to get it done so quick. We can try to get our lives back a bit, without worry about what the next phone call is going to be or hearing any excess news. It has settle down a lot.
Diana Rugg: I’m sure you must have been anxious coming here for this trip knowing what was going to take place. How did it feel actually sitting in that courtroom seeing Elisa, seeing Adam, seeing all the investigatorsall the players there?
Emily Dietrich: Well, I didn’t really see Adam. I kept my head forward; I never turned around to look at my mother. The same thing with Elisa, I glanced over a couple of timesenough to catch her eye once and give her the biggest stare down I could. I tried not to focus on it, I was nervous as anything before walking into that courtroom knowing that they were going to be there. But ultimately I had to stand there and be strong enough to go through it. Zahra wasn’t able to be there to represent herself, so mom and I were there to represent her instead. So letting Elisa see any sign of weakness just wasn’t going to happen.
Diana Rugg: How did it feel to finally see her in the flesh, even though you said you didn’t want to look at her. You knew she was there, you knew what’d happen. What did you want to say to her?
Emily Dietrich: So many things! Most of them I can’t probably say. I mainly wanted her to see me, and for her to see the pain that she’s caused on my face and on my mother’s face. And everyone says how much she (Zahra) looks like me. I wanted her to look at me and know that Zahra was my daughter and she did take that away. (I wanted) a face for her to remember. Her face has been strewn all over the media, and I remember her face I could pick it from a mile away, but I wanted her to see mine. And for me to have that satisfaction imprinted on her head.
Diana Rugg: It was a very emotional statement that you made to the court. What did you want her to feel when you said that statement, because you knew that she was listening?
Emily Dietrich: Honestly, like I said in my statement I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know this woman, and what I do know of hernothing I said was going to break her or make her feel remorse or compassion, or regret. I just said what I felt. I spoke not only for myself, but also for my family who has struggled enormously through all of this. I wanted her to know that I may not have been around but that did not stop the love. (I wanted her to know) that she was still my daughter, and she wasn’t just Adam’s daughter, and that she didn’t just hurt Adam by doing this. There was a bigger picture than thatincluding my children’s lives that have been just rootedcompletely uprooted and turned upside down. They’ve lost a certain amount of innocence in all of this having to realize that evil really is there, it’s not just on tv.
Diana Rugg: You mentioned the realization that Zahra was your daughter even if you couldn’t be there, because once you have that baby you have that “mom bond”. And we hear something that comes up over and over again when we’re out in the public, and it troubles me quite a bit, people asking “why did Emily ever give up Zahra to her father?” Maybe you can shed some light on that for them.
Emily Dietrich: It’s hard to explain it to people who haven’t been parents. I suffered from depression. I suffered from post-natal depression with all three of my children, but sadly with Zahra, I didn’t haveI didn’t know that I had it. You don’t realize you have it, you just think you’re inadequate. You reach a point where you have a split second to make a decision on what is best for your child before the depression overtakes you and then you have no choice. In my head, the best thing wasand the safest thing for her was to go with him. I didn’t have the strength to keep doing it. I didn’t want to hate my child. I didn’t want to be that news story were you hear a mother has drowned her child, or couldn’t stop them crying so they smothered them. I didn’t want to be that mother. And I beg any mother out there who feels it to get help and to do everything that they can to get support and to keep support and it doesn’t make them a bad person. It gets treated by the two children I still suffered, but I had the knowledge to get through it and I knew to ask for help. That’s the main thing, I didn’t do it because I didn’t love herI did it because I did love her.
Diana Rugg: Any mother who’s been through thatgiving their child up for custody, it’s a very unselfish decision. What made you think Adam could be a better parent? He must’ve had some fine qualities at some time in your eyes.
Emily Dietrich: Well first let me say, I had no choicehim being on her birth certificate, being her father. I couldn’t give her up for adoption or for fostering or anything without his consent to start with. So ultimately he was the only decision that I had. He was having the support of his parents there, he had his brothers as well. With that support there I had no reason to believe he would ever hurt her. He never showed any contempt toward her, so I had no reason to not trust him. The relationship between him and I is a different story. And that’s between him and I, but it never stemmed through to her.
Diana Rugg: He must’ve had some finer qualities at some point in your eyes?
Emily Dietrich: I was 19, very naïve to so many things as we all are. We all at some point went through the bad boy phase wanting that person that your parents don’t want. I was engaged to him, but it didn’t work out. It didn’t work out. As a father I had no reason to doubt his abilities.
Diana Rugg: Were you able to keep in contact with him for the next few years to keep updates with Zahra, to see her?
Emily Dietrich: No. And to be honest that’s not something that I’m willing to get into. That’s something that’s between him and I that we still haven’t discussed ourselves. I’m not sure I’m willing to discuss it with him to be honest. But I don’t think that that’s a public matter I think that’s a personal matter between him and I and possibly our families.
Diana Rugg: Fair enough. I asked because I had read somewhere that you had gotten in contact with him just prior to Zahra’s disappearance.
Emily Dietrich: No. I had not got in contact with him. Through a friend, through the internet, it was a big coincidenceMy friends father had worked with Adam’s father previously in Australia. Of course, over the years looking for her, I had no reason to believe that she would be anywhere but Australia.
Diana Rugg: So you had been looking?
Emily Dietrich: Yeahconstantly, constantly looking. And we stumbled upon this connection and then did some inquires and found out that she had left the country. I managed to get emailed some photos. One of them was of her holding a school award. After years and years of doing your own PI work you learn your own little skills, so I zoomed in on the award and found that it was from Granite Falls Elementary. (I then) googled Granite Falls Elementary and found out where she was. We were ecstatic; my mother was in the hospital sick. We were so excited we couldn’t believe it that after this longand in America? That’s the last place we were looking. And within a matter of days! Later my friend who actually helped me to find her sent me a text message cause she couldn’t talk to me. And she said you need to go and google Zahra’s name, because that’s what we used to do we would google her name and hoped that something would pop up. And I was like all right, and she was saying no you need to do it now. And we thought it was a big prank, like some elaborate
Diana Rugg: Just the timing of it all...
Emily Dietrich: She was already gone. The day we found her she was already gone. She was gone, what? Two weeks beforehand.