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FBI boosts reward, efforts to find girl missing for 15 years

FALLSTON, N.C. — Charlotte FBI division officials announced Monday they will raise the reward for information in the 15-year investigation of a missing 9-year-old girl.
 
The FBI will offer up to $25,000 and a community group will offer an additional $20,000 for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the disappearance of Asha Degree.
"We want you to come forward and bring closure to this family that has suffered for this long period of time," said Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman.
 
On Valentine's Day of 2000, Degree, then 9 years old, disappeared from her parents' home in Fallston.
 
Her family last saw her asleep in her room around 2:30 a.m. A trucker saw her around 4 a.m. walking along Highway 18 near Shelby.
 
That was the last time Degree was ever seen.
 
One year later, they found what they believe to be her backpack buried along Highway 18 in Burke County. An extensive search failed to produce more clues. Police believe she was abducted.

The image of Degree hit home at Topps Pizza in Fallston.

“My son, he was in the same school with her,” said business owner Anthony Maness.

Maness said he remembers the day Degree vanished after she left her home. He remembers an agonizing search with no named suspects.

"It could have been my child or another child," he said.
 
The Sheriff's Office and the FBI are also reigniting the search for Degree by reviewing every angle of the case and re-interviewing witnesses.

Her father, Harold Degree, said he can sense the change when he talks to investigators.
 
"They are working a bit harder than before I think," he said.

Friday, Missing and Exploited Children officials released the latest age-progression photo of Degree. It shows Degree as a 24-year-old woman.
 
Saturday, Degree's family retraced the steps they believe she took before she disappeared. Degree's family and loved ones walked from her house in Fallston to the sign planted in the place where she was last seen.

"That sign is all we have," her mother, Iquilla Degree, said. "I still believe she is alive and I know one day we will see her."
Investigators now plan to launch an awareness campaign to find Degree and will redistribute Degree's photo to local homes and businesses. The FBI said Adams Outdoor Advertising is donating digital billboard space across the Charlotte area.
 
"It's worse than death because at least with death you have closure," her mother said. "We haven't given up hope."

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