Decades after her disappearance, Asha Degree’s family still seeks answers

The nine-year-old girl from Cleveland County went missing on Valentine’s Day in 2000.
Asha Degree
Asha Degree(Family Photo)
Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 6:53 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Asha Degree’s parents last saw their daughter 23 years ago. It’s a Valentine’s Day they’ll never forget.

The then nine-year-old girl from Cleveland County went missing on February 14, 2000. Family members last saw her asleep in her bedroom.

While some clues have emerged about what could’ve happened to her, Asha still has not been found.

Today, she would be 32 years old.

It’s the heartbreaking reality her parents Iquilla and Harold Degree have had to deal with every day for years.

Asha left her bedroom in the overnight hours with her book bag. Two people separately reported seeing a little girl walking along Highway 18 around four in the morning.

A year and a half later, her book bag was found 30 miles away in Burke County.

Inside was a children’s book belonging to the library of Asha’s school, and a “New Kids on the Block” t-shirt which did not belong to Asha.

Authorities say Asha may have gotten into the car on the night she disappeared.

It’s now 2023. Where does everything stand?

Keep scrolling for a comprehensive timeline of WBTV’s coverage.

Over the years, WBTV has sat down with the Degree family and authorities as the search for answers continues.

“Everybody remembers this case, not just in this community, but I think across the state people remember the name, Asha Degree. We’ve tried to keep it alive,” an investigator of the case said. “But for this community in general, is basically the largest case, especially with sheriff’s office that’s ever been worked here. And it’s not been solved.”

From Asha’s personality to her hobbies and interests, On Your Side With Jamie Boll shows us who “Shelby’s Sweetheart” was.

WBTV has been with the Degree family in every step of their search for answers throughout the past two decades.

On the tenth anniversary of Asha’s disappearance, WBTV’s Molly Grantham traveled to the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office to see where things stood in the investigation.

15 years later, a $45,000 reward was announced for any information leading to an arrest.

“People are crazy about money,” then Business Community Member James Hutchis said. “Yeah, that could be an incentive.”

Her parents, still holding onto hope, continued to retrace the steps they believe she took the night she disappeared.

In 2016, the Cleveland County Sheriff said detectives were looking for information about a car that was dark green, possibly an early 1970s Lincoln Continental Mark IV, or possibly a Ford Thunderbird.

Authorities say Asha may have gotten into a green car like this one on the night she disappeared.
Authorities say Asha may have gotten into a green car like this one on the night she disappeared.(FBI)

A couple of years later in 2018, the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office released a video on their Facebook page which included new potential clues that could be related to Asha’s disappearance.

“I don’t believe she’s dead. I’ve never believed it from day one,” her mother Iquilla Degree told WBTV. “I’m not going to believe it. Even if they say okay, we’re pretty sure this is her and the case is closed. It will probably never be closed for me.”

Investigators also searched a Shelby farm, hoping to find any clues to help the investigation.

“I know it’s been very disturbing for the community as well as my family,” said John Cline, a Shelby resident. “They searched our farm looking for any ditch, ravine, old well, anything where they could possibly find clues.”

Investigators did not find any clues on the Cline’s farm.

20 years later, WBTV spoke with Brigesh Patel in 2020 who ran a local convenience store less than a mile from a billboard near Highway 18 baring Asha’s face.

“You can see the pain in [her parents’] eyes and they still remember her,” said Patel.

What happened to Asha Degree? The investigation continued.

“This is a solvable case,” said Sheriff Alan Norman.

Friends and family gathered to pray, clinging to hope.

In 2021, WBTV’s Jamie Boll sat down with both parents.

“We’ve done everything in our power to find our child and bring her home,” Iquilla Degree, Asha’s mother, then told WBTV. “Even though she is 30 now, she is still our child, still the 9-year-old little girl that left.”

“This is worse than death because, at least with death, you have closure,” Degree said. “You can go to a gravesite, or if you have the urn at home, but for us, we can’t mourn, we can’t give up. The only thing we got is hope.”

The FBI told WBTV they were continuing to discuss and investigate Degree’s disappearance.

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