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 Search Wood Chipper, Elisa Baker Appears in Court
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.
There had been a fire in the Baker's backyard on the morning that Zahra went missing.
Elisa Baker was charged with felony obstruction of justice after she admitted to police that she penned the ransom note which was discovered the day Zahra was reported missing.
Baker appeared in court briefly Wednesday handcuffed and in a pink jumpsuit and answered simple "yes" and "no" to the judge's questions.
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 WSOC Wednesday. "It's scary coming out here and seeing all the court reporters and courtroom of people who are so much against her right now."
Elisa Baker is being held on $40,000 bond.
MySpace Page, Ransom Note Could Offer Clues
A MySpace page apparently run by Elisa Baker under the username "gothicfairy6668" is covered in gothic images including a skull and crossbones background. The page, first reported Tuesday by WBTV, features a slideshow of what appear to be personal photographs, including several pictures of the missing girl. The caption of one image of Zahra reads, "The Dark Child!!!lol".
Much of the biographical information on the page coincides with that of Elisa Baker, from the user's age of 42, her husband's name Adam, as well as photos of her husband and Zahra.
The last time the user logged on was Oct. 8, the day before Zahra was reported missing. In the "Details" section of the page, the user wrote that she's a "proud parent." Under "Mood," she wrote "crazy."
Commenters have filled the pages with angry tirades against her.
Search warrants for the Bakers' two cars and home revealed the existence of the $1 million ransom note left on one of the family's two vehicles. The note, however, was not addressed to Zahra's parents but to her father's boss, Mark David Coffey.
"Mr. Coffey, you like being in control who is in control now we have your daughter and your pot smoking red head son is next unless you do what is asked 1,000,000 unmarked will be in touch soon [sic]," read handwriting on the note, according to the warrant.
"No cops" was also written twice on the note.
Coffey reportedly owns the property on which the Bakers live and was present the day Zahra was reported missing.
Relatives, Neighbors Claim Abuse
Stapleton said on the day she took the picture of Zahra -- which was obtained exclusively by ABC News -- 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.
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.