On February 13, 2000, Asha Jaquilla Degree was 9 years old and lived with her father Howard, mother Iquilla and her brother O’Bryant (10 years old) in Shelby, North Carolina. Asha and her brother’s life were centered around their extended family, church, and school.
On that day, there was a car crash near the Degree house that caused the power in the neighborhood to go out. Their normal routine of taking a bath before bed was left to be done the next morning. The kids went to bed at 8:30 p.m. and Iquilla set the alarm for an hour earlier the next morning so the children could bathe before going to school.
At 12:30 am the power had come back on, and Asha’s father Howard came home from work. He checked on the children and watched TV before going to bed at 2:30 am. He checked on the children one last time before going to bed, where he saw them both sleeping.
During the night, Asha’s brother O’Bryant momentarily woke up and saw her standing in their room. Thinking she had just gone to use the restroom, he goes back to bed.
When Iquilla’s alarm went off at 5:30 am, she rose to give the children their bath. She opened the door to the children’s room and saw O’Bryant in bed, but no Asha. She searched the entire house but was unable to locate her. She realized Asha was not in the house and went to wake Howard to tell him she was missing.
After calling family members, they called the police shortly afterward as no one had seen her. When the police came to the house, they saw no evidence of a crime, foul play, or forced entry. After police realized that Asha’s backpack, a pair of sneakers and two sets of clothes were missing, they started to think Asha left by choice.
Asha’s parents were adamant that she would not have run away. Her home life was stable and she was a shy girl, terrified of the dark, storms, and dogs, and there was a storm the night she went missing. She had lost a basketball game recently, and was visibly upset about it – but they believe it would not have been a reason for her to run away.
After police made her disappearance public, sightings of her started to come in. Between 3:45 and 4:15 am a truck driver and a motorist claimed to have seen a young girl walking south along Highway 18 in the direction of town. The girl was wearing a long-sleeved white T-shirt and white pants, which police confirmed were missing from Asha’s closet. Unfortunately, at the time of seeing her, they did not call the police to report it until seeing a TV segment about her later. The motorist claimed when he saw her, he turned his car around to ask if she needed any help but she became frightened when he approached her and she ran off into some trees by the side of the road.
Another lead came in on February 15. In a shed along the highway that belonged to a business, a woman told police she found a Micky Mouse hair bow, a green marker, and a pencil inside the shed. Police searched the shed and found candy wrappers that were confirmed to be the same kind that Asha had gotten the weekend before, in a basketball tournament. Unfortunately, police were unable to do much with the lead, and it wasn’t until 18 months later that another one came in.
On August 3, 2001, twenty-six miles from her house, and in a different direction than the one she was seen walking in the night of her disappearance, a contractor found a black trash bag that had been buried on his property. He opened the bag only to see another black trash bag and when he opened the second one, he found a child’s backpack with Asha’s name and telephone number written on it.
Police searched the property but were unable to find anything else significant. They did find a pair of men’s khaki pants but no public information was ever released from the DNA testing of them. After Asha’s backpack was discovered, police officially made an announcement that they believed foul play was a factor in Asha’s disappearance.
In May of 2016, a new tip came in where a witness saw Asha getting into a dark green 1975 Ford Thunderbird or a 1973 Lincoln Continental Mark IV along Highway 18 the night she went missing.
In October 2018, police made a new plea for information regarding two items. A Dr. Seuss book McElligot’s Pool which was borrowed from the Fallston Middle School library in early 2000, and a New Kids on the Block concert T-shirt, both items were mentioned as critical to solving the case.
Today the FBI released a updated age-progressed photo of what Asha would look like today.
If you have any sort of information regarding this case, please contact the Charlotte FBI at (704) 672-6100, your local FBI office. The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward, and the community an additional $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
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