CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. — Friday marked 20 years since 9-year-old Asha Degree vanished and the FBI recently released an age-progression picture showing what she would like now.
Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman was the shift commander when he responded to the call two decades ago on Valentine’s Day.
“I remember it like it was yesterday," Norman said.
The sheriff remembers the storm the morning that Asha left her home near Fallston.
The weather cleared up at sunrise, and the young officer believed things would get better.
Authorities believe that she was taken.
"She went missing under my watch," Norman said.
A year after Asha vanished, her backpack was found in the woods in Burke County.
Inside the backpack, there was a book checked out from Asha's school library and a T-shirt that did not belong to her.
More than a decade later, investigators asked for help finding a car that may have led to a person of interest.
A special FBI team also joined the search.
"It's my responsibility to bring her home and bring closure," Norman said.
He hasn't given up hope and neither has her family, who are focused on bringing Asha home.
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"I can't give up on her," her mother, Iquilla Degree, said.
A team of investigators still meet regularly to work solely on finding Asha, also known as Shelby's Sweetheart.
They said Friday they are still getting new leads.
"We still get information about people and names that have never come up before," investigator Tim Adams said.
The sheriff has a message for her possible abductor.
"You are carrying the burden,” Norman said. “You have been carrying it for 20 years, and I want you to contact me personally to relievef yourself of that burden."
There are no suspects.
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