‘I still believe’: 21 years later, Asha Degree’s mom still holds out hope for missing daughter

CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. — Sunday will mark 21 years since 9-year-old Asha Degree vanished from her home in Cleveland County.

But her mother isn’t giving up hope.

Asha was last seen walking in the rain near her Shelby home on Valentine’s Day in 2000. Detectives found her backpack buried along a road in Burke County nearly a year later.

Channel 9 reporter Ken Lemon broke the story in 2000 and recently sat down with Asha’s mother, Iquilla Degree.

“I still believe that she’s alive,” she said.

Last year, the FBI put up billboards with an age-progressed picture of Asha in hopes of generating new leads.

“Somebody knows something,” said Iquilla Degree. “A 9-year-old just don’t disappear off of the face of the Earth without a trace. No, there is no way.”

The FBI believes that someone took Asha but has no suspects.

Iquilla Degree still looks outside expecting to see something that hasn’t happened in 21 years.

“My child, walking in the door,” she said. “Some days you get up and it seems like it just happened yesterday.”

Since Asha’s disappearance, her backpack has been found and a car was identified for a possible person of interest inside. No suspect has been found, no new leads have broken in the case, and Asha, who would be 30 years old, still has not been found.

The morning Asha vanished, her parents had an appointment with a realtor to look for a new home. After Asha went missing, they stayed in the same house for two decades, holding on to hope that they would be there if Asha found a way back. They have since moved into a new home. It was not an easy decision.

“No matter where we live, we are going to always be her parents and we are going to always be looking for her,” Iquilla Degree said.

Asha’s family has marched every year near the anniversary of the day she disappeared. They didn’t gather and march this year because of COVID-19, but her family is still pushing for help.

“All I can do is ask, beg, plead,” Iquilla Degree said. “I don’t know -- short of killing myself -- how to get you to come forward.”

They want this year to be the last year of the searches. They want Asha returned home.

“We still love her,” Iquilla Degree said. “We haven’t given up on her.”

There is still a $45,000 reward for information about Asha and a family waiting for the return of a missing child.

Asha’s family wants anyone with information to call 704 484-4788. They still have an investigator working solely on finding Asha Degree with help from state and federal investigators.

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