Vigils for missing children are generally sources of collective strength and hope, but in the case of missing disabled 10-year-old Zahra Baker, countless allegations of repeated domestic abuse spawned another feeling entirely Wednesday night: anger.
"I hope this will be the beginning of no one not speaking out when they see a child being hurt," one woman said in a passionate plea as onlookers held back tears around her during a candlelit vigil for Zahra in Hickory, N.C.
Zahra, who lost her left leg and hearing in a childhood battle with cancer, was reported missing Saturday but police have been unable to find anyone other than her parents who have seen the girl in weeks.
Police searching for any sign of the girl have focused on a woodchipper, mulch piles and the woods few miles from the Baker home and have drained a nearby pond; all to no avail. Today they're also combing through computer and phone records for any hints.
Several former neighbors, along with one relative, have come forward to claim the girl was repeatedly abused by her stepmother, Elisa Baker.
Baker, who was already in custody on unrelated charges, admitted Tuesday to writing a ransom note demanding $1 million in connection with the case, police said. But she has since denied any involvement in the girl's disappearance.
Zahra's father, Adam Baker, told "Good Morning America" Monday that he believed his wife could be involved in his daughter's disappearance. Some law enforcement are questioning his motives as well.
"He seems concerned. I don't know how sincere his concern is," Burke County Sheriff John McDevitt said Wednesday as investigators continued to search for any sign of Zahra's remains. When asked if he believed Adam Baker, McDevitt said, "I don't."
But today, Hickory city police officials said Adam Baker has been fully cooperating with investigators since Zahra went missing.
Much of last night's anger was focused on Zahra's extended family, who some people implied did nothing to protect the little girl. But one family friend stood up to defend them and said the family called social services on Zahra's behalf.
"They tried, they really tried," Baker family friend Lindsey Parker said at the vigil. "And I just want everybody here to know that the family honestly tried."
Elisa Baker's son, who also attended the vigil, did not comment on the allegations of abuse.
"Right now's not the appropriate time for that, you know," Douglas Baker told "GMA." "We need to let all the facts come out and go from there."
Another family friend, Brandy Stapleton, said she took a picture of Zahra more than two months ago in which the child clearly has a bruise under her eye.
Police returned Wednesday night to the area surrounding a wood chipper a few miles from the Baker home to continue their search for signs of the missing girl.
The wood chipper and nearby debris became the focus of the search after cadaver dogs made positive "hits" on the equipment Monday, officials told ABC News' Charlotte affiliate WSOC. Earlier in the case, dogs signaled they had discovered signs of human remains in both vehicles belonging to the Bakers.
Investigators seized several items from the Baker home, including two gas cans, burn samples from the morning fire and drug paraphernalia, according to an earlier warrant. Two samples of "possible blood" were taken from one of the cars.