CHARLOTTE, NC (Jane Wester/Charlotte Observer) - In a cold case that has baffled investigators for 17 years, authorities today will announce beefed-up efforts to find out what happened to nine-year-old Asha Degree after she disappeared from her Shelby home.
Asha vanished in the middle of the night, on Feb. 14, 2000.
Drivers said they saw her walking along N.C. 18 in Shelby around 4 a.m., and her family called the authorities at 6:30 that morning. Detectives have been looking for her ever since.
Asha's 27th birthday was last month, and Wednesday the FBI is announcing that the agencies investigating her disappearance – the FBI, the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigations – will partner with a team from FBI headquarters with specialized training in missing children cases.
Detectives have kept her case open all these years, with some progress and some false leads.
A year after she went missing, her backpack was found buried along N.C. 18 in Burke County – miles from where she was last seen. Some of her belongings were still inside, authorities said.
In 2010, an N.C. prisoner said he had been involved in her disappearance, but his announcement didn't turn into a break in the case. Asha's mother said the man was only trying to get out of prison.
In May 2016, the FBI announced the first new details in the case in years, after getting a tip that someone who looked like Asha may have been seen getting into a "distinctive vehicle" along N.C. 18 at the time of her disappearance.
The vehicle was an early 1970s Lincoln Mark IV or possibly a Thunderbird, authorities said.
The Degree family has said Asha loved sports. Her older brother walked her to her 4th grade classroom each day, teachers said. He has a daughter now, and her middle name is Asha.