Family, Friends Pray For Missing Teen's Safe Return

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None - A Cleveland county community continues to rally behind the family of Asha Degree on the 10-year anniversary of her disappearance.

Dozens of people gathered at the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church Sunday night for a special prayer meeting in Asha's honor. She will be 19 years old this year.

The people who attended the event said they were there to celebrate the strength of Asha's family and the continued hope for her safe return. They are also hoping to raise money to add to the reward fund for information about her disappearance.

Asha's cousin Mary Degree said, "I am so proud that this church and this community have not forgotten Asha."

Asha was 9 years old when she disappeared from her Shelby home Feb. 14, 2000. Her cousin Angela James was just 6 years old. James said, "It's like it's a missing spot in your heart because that's family."

Captain Bobby Steen with the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department was a speaker at the prayer meeting. He said his investigators get one to two tips a week, but there haven't been any substantial leads in years.

Like her family, Steen believes Asha is alive. "We have to continue to believe there is a person out there and we're going to find her," he said.

Until then, her community will keep praying until Asha Degree is no longer a face on a T-shirt or poster, but back home safe with her family.

VIDEO: 10 Years Later, Search For Missing Girl Continues

"Us and the FBI and the police, [the] one thing we can agree on even after 10 years is that she willfully walked out," Iquilla said.

On the night she disappeared, witnesses reported seeing Asha around 4 a.m., walking down Highway 18.

Initially, detectives questioned her parents.

"You suspect the parents regardless, so I accepted that, you know," Harold said. "And like I told them, I ain't got nothing to hide and whatever they need us to do, we'll do, no questions asked."

Investigators have followed hundreds of tips about Asha in the years since her disappearance, including 262 from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Charles Pickett has handled her case there since the start. It's still open and active today.

Pickett said mailers and age-progression photos have generated tips.

Artist Steve Loftin has created several such photos of Asha. He recently finished a new one.

Loftin said the process is more art than science, because no one knows exactly what Asha would look like at age 19. But he is able to use photos of Asha's mother, father, and older brother as teenagers as guides.

"I think I'm in that ballpark of likeness that she would be recognized," Loftin said.

And Harold and Iquilla Degree hope the same thing. They said they don't know exactly how their daughter would look today, but still believe that one day, they'll have the opportunity to find out.

"All we have is hope, and we're not gonna let nobody take that from us," Iquilla said. "Because I just feel like as a mother, I would know. I just feel like I would feel it if my child was dead, and I don't. Even 10 years later, I don't."

VIDEO: Asha's Parents Discuss The Early Days Of The Investigation

VIDEO: Harold and Iquilla Degree Discuss Hopes For Their Daughter's Case

VIDEO: Artist Who Created Newest Age-Progression Photo Describes His Work

If you have any information about Asha's disappearance, investigators ask that you call Cleveland County Crimestoppers at 704-481-TIPS or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

For more information on Asha's case or to learn more about the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, click here.

A vigil was held Sunday at the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Waco North Carolina.