Asha Degree: Family, friends refuse to give up search for little girl who disappeared in 2000
Saturday, Feb 16 2008, 10:20 pm
Graham Cawthon and Drew Brooks
SHELBY — It’s been a mystery for county and state law enforcement for nearly a decade.
Thousands of cases have come and gone. Thousands of arrests, convictions and solutions.
But there’s been no solution here. No closure. Not since the day 9-year-old Asha Degree disappeared.
Her image remains scattered across the county. Fliers taped to windows. Billboards on busy highways.
Asha’s disappearance has become that of urban legend and her name extends far beyond the borders of Cleveland County.
A search of her name on Google turns up nearly 1,000 Web site results relating to the Fallston Elementary student.
She’s been profiled on “America’s Most Wanted” and the National Center for Missing &
Her story has been told on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Montell Williams.”
There’s been no sign of Asha since she disappeared eight years ago this week.
But it’s not because no one’s looking.
“It doesn’t get any easier”
“I hope we don’t have to go through another year,” Asha’s father, Harold, told friends at a prayer vigil Wednesday in Asha’s honor. “But if we do, we’ll go through it again.”
A quiet man, Harold has kept much of his feelings on the inside, reserving them for close family and friends.
His wife, Iquilla, remains outspoken.
“That’s my baby, I carried her,” she said. “It’s just hard and it gets harder. We missed out on a lot.”
She said at times she falls into depression.
At other times, it’s anger.
“I get mad,” she said. “But who can I get mad at?”
The ordeal has been difficult for the couple and their son, O’Bryant, who attends college at UNC Pembroke.
“To us, it’s like it just happened yesterday,” Harold said. “It doesn’t get any easier.”
Searching for answers
Asha’s disappearance has been handled by the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office since day one. But even with the assistance of the SBI and FBI, their work hasn’t been enough to turn up credible leads in the case.
Through the years, the investigation has been handed down from detective to detective. For the past year and a half, Pete Hamrick has overseen the case.
Hamrick estimated between eight and 10 investigators led the case before him.
“My feelings go out to the family,” he said Thursday, the anniversary of her disappearance, before the annual prayer walk on Fallston Road. “This could happen to anyone.”
He said the investigation has had no new leads since September. That lead, as so many others before it, was exhausted to no avail.
Initial searches of Asha’s neighborhood uncovered no evidence and K-9s failed to pick up her scent. Her backpack was found about a year later, on N.C. 18 in Burke County, but nothing has been found since.
“It’s somewhat discouraging, but we have to keep going for the family and for the community,” he said. “As long as leads come in, I’m going to follow them up.”
Hamrick said he prays for Asha every night. He said he is currently reviewing the case file, trying to find the one stone left unturned, and re-interviewing those with knowledge of the case.
Hamrick said this was the biggest case the county has seen.
“I don’t really see anything else we can do more,” he said. “The community, if they do know anything, please give us a call .
It would be nice to get that one lead.”
n For archived stories of the Asha case, a timeline, video interviews with family and detectives and more, visit
shelbystar.com for a Special Report on the investigation.
n Have information regarding the disappearance of Asha Degree? Call the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office at (704) 484-4788 or CrimeStoppers at (704) 481-TIPS (8477). Your tip could be rewarded with up to $1,000.
SHELBY — “We ask you to bless her wherever she is today,” prayed Larlee Geter, a deaconess at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, Wednesday.
“You’re still God and even though their child is not with them, you are still in control.”
The support system for the family of Asha Degree is in many ways connected to their church and their faith.
The Degrees biological and church family heavily attended a prayer vigil and prayer walk this week to mark Asha’s disappearance.
The members of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church say they lost a daughter on Feb. 14, 2000.
“My heart breaks every time I think about that child,” one churchgoer said.
“I can’t understand what they’re going through,” said another. “Many of us would have lost our minds.”
The church has been struggling and praying for eight years, members said.
Ryan McCain remembers the last Sunday before Asha went missing.
Now the pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Waco, eight years ago he was the youth pastor.
“I can recall just like it was yesterday the last day I saw Asha,” he said.
McCain said the family has shown amazing faith in the face of adversity.
“They are extremely committed and loyal to the cause of Christ,” McCain said. “The average person probably would break under these circumstances.”
“It’s their faith that holds them together,” he said.
Since her disappearance, the church has kept Asha at the forefront of thought. Bulletin boards are permanently dedicated to her and her smiling face appears in every newsletter.
“We try to always bring attention to her cause,” McCain said. “We will continue to keep Asha’s name alive, to keep Asha’s name well.”
While some may doubt their daughter is still alive, there is no doubt in the minds of the Degrees that Asha is still out there, being held against her will but alive.
“They’re looking for remains,” Iquilla said of investigators. “We’re looking for a person.”
“I just don’t believe it,” she added. “I don’t believe she is dead.”
Iquilla said she avoids watching or reading the media because it’s too difficult.
Still, stories of long-lost children being reunited with family fills her with hope.
“If they would have believed (their missing loved one was dead),” she said, “they would have given up.”
The family plans to continue their wait.
“Until we have closure,” Iquilla said. “If the Lord is willing, we’re able. If he had her, he would let us know.”
“We’re not giving up. Her friends and church family aren’t giving up.”
Timeline of events
Thursday, Feb. 10, 2000
Asha, a fourth-grader at Fallston Elementary School, rode the bus to school and home.
Fallston Elementary Principal Steve Borders said school staff knew of no problems or incidents that could have triggered Asha to run away.
He said Asha was an honors student who loves school and missed only one day that year, in September.
Former Cleveland County Sheriff Dan Crawford previously told The Star Asha and her 10-year-old brother O’Bryant did homework until their parents, Harold and Iquilla Degree, got home from work.
At the time, Iquilla worked at Kawai America Co. in Lincolnton and Harold at PPG.
Crawford said Harold normally worked second shift but worked first shift Thursday and Friday.
Both her mother and father said Asha loved school.
“It appears that it was just a normal school day and home day,” Crawford previously said.
“The mother and father are excellent parents who expect a lot academically from their children and demand they be at home after school.”
Friday, Feb. 11, 2000
Cleveland County Schools are off for the day. Crawford said Asha and O’Bryant stayed with their aunt, Kisha Degree, down the street during the day.
Both children had peewee basketball practice that afternoon at Fallston Elementary, then came home afterward.
Her coach, Chad Wilson, previously said the practice was normal.
“Asha was her usual fun-filled self,” Wilson said. “She had a good practice.”
Saturday, Feb. 12, 2000
Both Asha and O’Bryant had basketball games Saturday at Burns Middle School, with the girls’ game played first.
Asha’s team lost and she fouled out of the game.
Crawford said Asha was the type who might have felt responsible for her team’s loss.
Both her mother and Wilson said she took the loss hard initially but perked up afterward.
Asha’s parents said she cried after the game and it took a while for her to be consoled. Her mother said Asha felt bad and said her leg hurt. Her mother said she told Asha she really wasn’t hurt and could go ahead and walk, and Asha soon perked up.
Wilson said he was present the whole time and Asha didn’t have problems with anyone, and quickly admitted her leg wasn’t really hurt. He said she then played with the other girls.
“All the girls were crying, not just Asha, and they had a good cry afterward because it was the first loss,” Wilson previously told The Star.
“Just a few minutes later, she was up smiling and joking and having a good time. I sat behind her for part of the boys’ game and tossed a towel over her head and joked with her.
“She didn’t show any behavior or say anything that led me to believe she was unhappy.
“We joked like we normally do, and she was very happy when sitting with her mother.
“The family is a loving family, and her parents are just great. They are always at the games cheering both kids on.”
The family returned home after the games.
Sunday, Feb. 13, 2000
The family went to church at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Waco, then to an aunt’s house for lunch, then home.
Asha’s grandmother, Joanne Jackson, said Asha was happy when she received her Valentine’s Day candy on Sunday.
Her mother said Asha was happy during the day Sunday.
Crawford said Asha went to bed around 8 p.m.
Electricity went off in the Degrees’ neighborhood just before 9 p.m., after a car wreck nearby.
Monday, Feb. 14, 2000
When electrical service was restored around 12:30 a.m., Asha’s father saw both Asha and O’Bryant in their beds. The children sleep in the same room.
Asha’s father went to bed around 2:30 a.m.
Two motorists reported seeing a girl who matched Asha’s description on Highway 18, 1.2 miles south of the Degree home near the intersection of Highway 180, at 3:45 a.m. and 4:15 a.m.
Crawford previously said the motorists did not call police until about 5 p.m. Monday, after seeing the girl was considered missing on TV.
Asha’s mother went into the bedroom at 6:30 a.m. to wake the children for school, and Asha was not in her bed. Asha’s father called police and the search for her began.
Family members said Asha left the home wearing white sneakers, white jeans, carrying a black bookbag and a purse with Tweety Bird on it.
Other clothing missing from Asha’s room included her favorite blue jeans with a red stripe, a long-sleeved, white nylon shirt and a red vest trimmed in black.
Another outfit missing included black overalls with Tweety Bird on them and a black and white long-sleeved shirt.
There have been no sightings of Asha or her belongings since the two motorists saw her on N.C. 18. http://www.shelbystar.com/news/asha_28858_...ounty_name.html