A new photograph of missing 10-year-old Zahra Baker with a bruise under her eye surfaced today as the search for her body focused on a wood chipper and mulch piles for any sign of her remains.
The missing North Carolina 10-year-old, who lost her left leg and hearing in a battle with childhood cancer, is seen in a dimly lit cell phone image with what Baker family friend Brandy Stapleton called a visible bruise under her right eye. Stapleton said she took the photo, obtained exclusively by ABC News, on Aug. 9 -- the last day she saw the little girl.
Several former neighbors, along with one relative, have claimed Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, repeatedly physically abused the girl. Baker, who was already in custody on unrelated charges, admitted Tuesday to writing a $1 million ransom note in connection with the case.
After that admission, she was charged with felony obstruction of justice and appeared in court today. She is being held on $40,000 bond.
The stepmother appeared in court briefly today handcuffed and in a pink jumpsuit and answered simple "yes" and "no" to the judge's questions.
District Attorney Jay Gaither told reporters it is a "very emotional time" for law enforcement.
"I think the images you see, the smile, a handicapped girl that age, is just emotionally upsetting," Gaither said. "Law enforcement doesn't show it, but I think that they are affected by it."
Police Chief Tom Adkins struggled to keep his composure Tuesday when he announced that he was canceling the Amber Alert for Zahra and turning the investigation into a homicide case.
A lawyer for Baker said Tuesday his client claims she had nothing to do with Zahra's disappearance.
"She is scared to death," attorney Scott Reilly told ABC News' Charlotte affiliate WSOC today. "It's scary coming out here and seeing all the court reporters and courtroom of people who are so much against her right now."
Stapleton said on the day she took the picture of Zahra, the child seemed down and so she thought a picture could cheer her up. Baker initially told her not to take the picture, Stapleton said, because Zahra's eye was bruised. But Stapleton insisted because she wanted to see the little girl smile.
At the time, Stapleton said she didn't think much of the bruise because Zahra's stepmother would often say her daughter was clumsy.
Bobby Green, a former neighbor, told reporters Tuesday that Zahra frequently had bruises but that Elisa Baker would always explain them away.
"It's always she fell down, or she rolled out of bed or she didn't have her leg on right and couldn't walk right and fell. It's always Zahra's fault, for her injuries," Green said.
The girl was reported missing Saturday, but police said they can't find anyone beyond her parents who has seen her in weeks.
The wood chipper and nearby debris became the focus of the search after cadaver dogs made positive "hits" on the equipment Monday, officials told WSOC. Earlier, dogs signaled they had discovered signs of human remains in both vehicles belonging to the Bakers.