HICKORY, N.C. (CBS/AP) The Amber Alert for Zahra Baker, the missing hearing-impaired North Carolina girl, has been canceled, and now the homicide investigation is just beginning. Although police have not named any suspects, recent reports suggest that they are taking a careful look at Zahra's stepmother Elisa Baker.
On Tuesday morning, Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins told reporters that Elisa Baker had confessed to writing a ransom note found at the house where the girl lived that seemed to point to a mistaken identity stranger abduction.
The chief also said that Elisa Baker has now been charged with felony obstruction of justice in the case.
Zahra's stepmother had already been arrested on unrelated charges.
Elisa Baker said she last saw Zahra sleeping in her room about 12 hours earlier, but Adkins has indicated he doesn't believe the timeline the couple gave him, and is attempting to piece together a "true timeline."
While both parents say Zahra was in the house as late as Saturday, Adkins said investigators have been unable to find anyone outside of the family who has seen Zahra for at least a month.
After news of Zahra's disappearance and Elisa Baker's arrest, those who knew the Bakers came forward with stories of abuse and neglect, and Adam Baker told reporters he believed "it [was] possible" his wife was involved in his daughter's disappearance.
Brittany Bentley, who is married to Elisa Baker's nephew, told CBS' The Early Show that when Zahra stayed with her for a weekend the 10-year-old, who suffered from bone cancer and lost hearing in both ears from chemotherapy, grew upset when she had to return home.
"She was beat almost every time I was over there for just the smallest things," Bentley told the morning show. "Elisa would get mad, she would take it out on Zahra, things the kid didn't deserve. She just had a horrible home life."
A former neighbor, Kayla Rotenberry, said she grew close with the Bakers when they lived down the street from her but grew suspicious of Elisa Baker because of her outlandish stories and quick temper.
"There were warning signs along the way," Rotenberry said. "But you never want to think the worst."
According to Adkins, Zahra was reported missing Saturday afternoon by her father, Adam Baker, after a yard fire at the family home in Hickory, N.C., about 55 miles north of Charlotte.Shortly after the Amber Alert was issued Elisa Baker was arrested for nearly a dozen unrelated charges including communicating threats, writing worthless checks, larceny and driving with a revoked license.
Volunteers have offered to help look for Zahra, who is described as shy but always smiling, but efforts have been stymied by the lack of information about her whereabouts before she disappeared.
"We understand the public wants to help find Zahra. The problem is we cannot confirm with any confidence how long Zahra has been missing," he said at the news conference. "Without this information, we cannot positively select the area to search for her."
Anyone with information is asked to call the Hickory Police Department at 828-328-5551.