CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. — Asha Degree vanished more than 18 years ago in the middle of the night. She was 9 years old on that day, which was Valentine’s Day.
"I can look at that picture, and know that I can't give up on her," her mother, Iquilla Degree, said.
The family is still holding tight to hope.
"That's all we have and until I have concrete evidence, nobody's going to take my hope away," Iquilla Degree said.
- Wednesday marked 18 years since Asha Degree vanished
- Prayer walk held 17 years after disappearance of Asha Degree
- FBI boosts reward, efforts to find girl missing for 15 years
- 'Good Morning America' Profiles Local Girl's Disappearance
- Family searches for Asha Degree
- Family continues search 14 years after girl's disappearance
There are age-progressed photos, which are computer generated projections of what she would look like now.
"I can't forget,” Iquilla Degree said. “That's all I have is nine years. God gave us nine years with her actually living in the house with us, and so I can't forget them."
For digital exclusive content, stream WSOC-TV on Amazon Fire Stick, Roku and Apple TV.
Asha was an outstanding first-year basketball player on a strong team of fourth-grade girls. The team suffered a disappointing loss during the last game Asha played with them.
Investigators believe that's why Asha, athletic and very competitive, packed a bag and walked away from her home.
She was last seen by truckers a mile from her Fallston home heading toward Shelby on Highway 18.
Detectives think someone saw her and took her away.
A man in Burke County was clearing debris on a property 20 miles north of Burke County 1 ½ years ago.
He found Asha’s book bag containing her clothes on Highway 18.
"Just a bunch of emotions you know,” Asha’s father, Harold Degree, said. “You don't know for sure. You know they could have took the book bag up there, you know to throw the detective, police and everybody off you know."
An extensive search didn’t turn up any new, major clues.
In 2016, someone saw a girl who looked like Asha get in a car on the very day Asha was reported missing and on the same highway.
"I actually caught myself following a couple cars a couple times just to see where they went or what they were doing," Iquilla Degree said.
There were no more leads from that tip, but a team of investigators said they are still looking into the tip and several more.
Local, state and federal investigators meet every week following leads. There have been 277 tips in the past three years. They keep a database of names.
They save every piece of evidence collected believing new technology will lead to a suspect and eventually Asha.
"While I can't go into specifics about that type of technology, I can say we have absolutely considered and continue to consider all of the technology that have been used in the past to help solve missing kid cases," FBI agent Karen Walsh said.
They have a crime scene investigator in every meeting testing every item they get.
"Some of it right now isn't valuable, but we memorialized it none the less because someday that might become valuable," Walsh said.
She said they still need new information to build a case.
"Shelby's Sweetheart is missing," Walsh said.
Cox Media Group