The Disappearance of Asha Degree

Asha Degree Sitting on stool hoding a bear

Background

Asha Degree lived with her older brother and her parents, Iquilla and Harold Degree, at 3404 Oakcrest Drive in Shelby, North Carolina. She was in 4th grade at Fallston Elementary School at the time she went missing. Asha was involved in sports, playing on a basketball and softball team.


On Saturday, February 12, 2000, Asha had lost a basketball game; according to the FBI, she fouled out and her team lost by one point. It was a “crushing loss” her mother said, but seemed to be okay by Sunday.


The following day, February 13, 2000, Asha went to church and Sunday school. As usual, later that night, Asha got ready for bed and went to sleep.


Early in the morning, at 12:30am on February 14, 2000, Harold checked in on his children, who shared a bedroom, and saw they were both sleeping.

Disappearance

During an interview, Iquilla Degree states she woke up at 5:45am to get a bath ready for her children. She when into their bedroom where she saw her son laying under his blanket. Iquilla then noticed that Asha was not sleeping in her bed.

During an interview, Iquilla Degree states she woke up at 5:45am to get a bath ready for her children. She when into their bedroom where she saw her son laying under his blanket. Iquilla then noticed that Asha was not sleeping in her bed. Iquilla started searching the house, believing Asha to have already gotten out of bed. Once she realized her daughter was not in the house, she returned to her room, and informed her husband that she could not locate Asha. Harold suggested that she may have gone to his mother’s house who lived nearby. They called Harold’s mother and his sister, but neither of them had seen Asha. Iquilla then called her mom, who instructed her to contact the police. Harold called the police; they arrived on scene around 6:40am. By 7 am, an extensive search was launched.

Searchers form a grid search (photo by: Lee McLeod)

Investigation

On the morning of February 14, 2000, search teams traveled in different directions from the Degree family home, hoping to find Asha or a clue to where she had gone. After turning to the media for help, police identified two motorist who spotted Asha between 3:30am and 4:15am, on Highway 18 of Shelby. Both motorists gave similar descriptions, describing a girl, walking south, wearing a backpack. One of the motorist reported they went to ask Asha if she was okay, but she ran into the woods.

Investigators determined there had not been any signs of forced entry into the Degree Family home; they believed Asha had left on her own accord. Upon searching Asha’s room, her parents realize some of her personal items were missing: a pair of pants, a purse with Tweety Bird on it, her bookbag, and her sneakers. It is believed that Asha packed these items and left her house. 

Debbie Turner points to where she found Asha Degree's items (Photo by: Jeff Melton)
March 15, 2000 Source: Star-News

On February 18, 2000, a few of Asha’s belongings were found close to where the motorists say they saw Asha. The items, a white Atlanta 1996 Olympics pencil, a green marker, and a Mickey mouse bow were found in a shed owned by a woman named Debbie Turner, along with some candy wrappers. She had found the items Tuesday morning (February 15, 2000) but did not think they had anything to do with Asha. She told the Star in 2000, “I know that the stuff shouldn’t of been there, but we live so far south of where the girl lived that I never thought it might be hers. I just hope this helps find her, and I’m happy that it gives hop to everyone looking for her.”

In the same article, The Star reported that a wallet size photo of a young female had been found near Asha’s items. “Crawford (the detective working the case) said the picture was not of Asha. He said it is possible that the picture fell out of Asha’s bag, but there’s no way of telling for sure if it belonged to her.”

“Detectives showed the picture to the family, and they didn’t recognize the girl, and neither did the people at Fallston School,” Crawford said. “Right now, we are not sure who it is a picture of, or where it came from. The FBI has entered it into evidence.”

Police have never identified the girl in the photo.

Updates

Asha’s bookbag was found eighteen months after she went missing. A construction crew found her bookbag wrapped in plastic, buried in the dirt. According to Star-News, it was found 25 miles away from where she was reported to be walking. The FBI did not report on the items that were found inside when the bookbag was discovered.  

Aug 7, 2001 Source: Star-News

In 2016, the FBI released additional details about Asha’s disappearance. Asha may have been seen getting into an early 1970s Lincoln Mark IV or a Ford Thunderbird with rust around the wheels.

1973 Lincoln Mark IV green car
1973 Lincoln Mark IV
1973 Ford Thunderbird
1973 Ford Thunderbird

In 2018, the FBI released information about the items found in Asha’s bookbag. There was a New Kids On The Block t-shirt and a Dr. Suess book, McElligot’s Pool. These items did not belong to Asha, though the book was traced back to her school library. This was a dead end, as the school library’s records did not date back far enough by the time official made the link.

Dr. Suess's McElligot's Pool
Dr. Seuss's McElligot's Pool
new kids on the block shirt
New Kids On The Block Shirt

There have been many tips over the years; none have generated any leads. The case is still being actively investigated.

Anyone with information about the Asha Degree case can call FBI Charlotte at 704-672-6100, the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office at 704-484-4822, or Crime Stoppers at 704-481-8477.

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