Wednesday marked 18 years since Asha Degree vanished in Cleveland Co.

CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. — Wednesday marked 18 years since the disappearance of a 9-year-old Cleveland County girl.

Asha Degree was last seen near her Shelby home on Valentine's Day in 2000.

Investigators believe someone abducted Asha but they've never found her, or made an arrest.

Police said Asha left her home in the middle of the night. Several drivers witnessed her walking south along North Carolina Highway 18 around 4 a.m., but did not alert police.

Her parents reported her missing a few hours later when they woke up and found Asha’s bed empty. More than a year later, her book bag was discovered buried along the same highway where she was last seen walking.

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“I honestly still think she's alive,” Asha’s mother, Iquilla Degree, told Channel 9 last year. “As her mother, I've just got enough faith in God that if he already had her soul, that he would've let us know.”

In September 2017, the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team came to Cleveland County for ten days to assist local agents and investigators with the case.

Since then, local agents and investigators have conducted approximately 300 interviews on the case. The FBI, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office, and SBI meet several times a month to go over the latest on the investigation.

“Even though it’s been 18 years since Asha disappeared, this is not a cold case sitting on a shelf. We are actively investigating, following leads, generating new ones, conducting interviews, and utilizing new advancements in technology that didn’t exist before,” said Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman.

“You have to remember, Asha didn’t have a cell phone, there wasn’t a computer trail to follow, there were no surveillance cameras on the streets, the technology that we often follow in investigative matters these days didn’t exist in 2000,” said John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina. “That is why the public is so important, someone has information that can help us find Asha and bring closure to her family and to the community.”

The FBI continues to offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to the person or persons responsible for Asha’s disappearance.

The community and sheriff’s office are offering an additional $20,000 reward, bringing the reward to $45,000.

If you have information on Asha’s disappearance call, 704-672-6100.

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