Seeking Clues in Asha Degree's Disappearance 20 Years Ago

The family of Asha Degree—along with FBI Charlotte and local investigators—continues to seek answers in the North Carolina girl's disappearance on February 14, 2000.

Video Transcript

Iquilla Degree: She was the type of child that would give you the shirt off her back. She never wanted anybody mad at her for anything. She wanted everybody to be her friend. She wanted everybody to be happy.

After 20 years, I still believe my daughter is alive. I do not believe she is dead. And I know somebody knows something. I’m not crazy enough to think that a 9-year-old can disappear into thin air without somebody knowing something.

Narration: It was 20 years ago on Valentine’s Day. Asha Degree disappeared in the middle of the night.

The fourth-grader is believed to have left home in the hours just before dawn, walking out of her Fallston neighborhood near Shelby, North Carolina.

Witnesses saw her walking along Highway 18 within a few miles of her home. A tipster reported she possibly got into a car.

More than a year later, Asha’s backpack turned up at a construction site 30 miles away. It raised new questions, but yielded few clues about the missing girl’s whereabouts.

Tim Adams, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office: A search was done of that area. Same type of situation. People were interviewed. Evidence was collected and sent off. And until this day, Asha has still not been located.

So, this is near the area where she was last seen.

Narration: Detective Tim Adams came out of retirement in 2014 to work the case for the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office.

He’s on a team that includes the FBI’s Charlotte Field Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.

These agencies have been on the case since Asha disappeared, but have recently redoubled their efforts.

This new team, which first met in 2015, now meets regularly to sift through clues and evaluate new information and results from interviews.

The case still generates hundreds of leads, including 45 in just the past year.

The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward in the case, on top of a $20,000 reward posted by the Sheriff’s Office and the community.

Billboards are posted along local roads where Asha may have been before she disappeared.

And the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children recently released an updated age-progression photograph showing what Asha might look like today as a 29-year-old woman.

The national non-profit produced another age-progressed image of Asha five years ago.

Colin McNally, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: What we’re trying to do is provide hope-based images—tools to help families that have these long-term missing children in the hope that we can create an image that might have a child brought home.

Narration: The FBI asked for the new image, and is updating the roadside billboard and its posters seeking information.

Over the years, investigators have released a few potential clues in the case.

In 2016, they published images of a car that may have picked up Asha.

They believe it was a 1970s-model Lincoln Continental Mark-4 or a Ford Thunderbird with rust around the wheel wells.

In 2018, investigators revealed two items found in Asha’s book bag.

A Dr. Suess children’s book from her school library—McElligot’s Pool—and a New-Kids-On-the-Block concert T-shirt, which didn’t belong to Asha.

Investigators are hoping anyone with information will come forward.

Michael Gregory, special agent, FBI Charlotte: We will continue to pursue all avenues to further finding out the, what circumstances led to her disappearance.

Narration: Asha’s mysterious disappearance—and the enduring questions surrounding it—have shaken her hometown, a close-knit hamlet in the Carolina foothills.

Det. Adams: This house here on the left, the end apartment, was Asha’s apartment—her family’s. Somebody’s moved in it now. They no longer live there.

People still want to help. People still want to find her. And she has been called Shelby’s Sweetheart just because she’s a child that’s one of our own that has gone missing, and we want to find out what happened to her.

Narration: For Asha’s family, prayers and hope have sustained them for the past 20 years. But they need answers.

Hoping this anniversary will be different, Iquilla appealed directly to anyone who may have been involved in her daughter’s fate to come forward and unburden themselves.

Iquilla Degree: That’s my prayer every night, that God will get into their heart and let them just come forward—or somebody that knows them come forward—because it’s got to be a weight on them.

We’re hoping and we’re praying that she’s had a halfway decent life anyway, even though we didn't get to raise her. She was 9 years old and now she’ll be 30 this year. So, we’ve missed everything. But I don't care. If she walked in the door right now, I wouldn't care what I missed. All I want to do is see her.

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