Brittany Bentley, a relative of Zahra's, said Tuesday the girl "was beat almost every time I was over there for just the smallest things" by her stepmother.
"Elisa would get mad, she would take it out on Zahra, things the kid didn't deserve," Bentley said on CBS' "Early Show." "She just had a horrible home life."
Bentley, who is married to Elisa Baker's nephew, said Zahra was locked in her room most of the day and only allowed out for five minutes to eat.
"I just think this was something for a long time that we knew was going to happen, everybody that was close to the family," Bentley said, apparently referring to Zahra's disappearance.
Former neighbors in nearby Sawmills, N.C., also described Elisa Baker to ABC News as a stern and cold parent to Zahra.
"Just the way she yelled and screamed at her, and I did see her hit the child a couple of times," one former neighbor, Renee Bobbitt, told ABC News Wednesday. Bobbitt also claimed Zahra was once sent to school with black eyes.
"I should have called and said something then," Bobbitt added. "I wish I had've a million times, because no child deserves anything like this. And it's really got the whole neighborhood upset because we all loved the child."
The Hickory Police department requests that anyone with information regarding the case call the station at (828) 328-5551.
ABC News' Michael S. James, Emily Stanitz and Scott Hanson contributed to this report.