Nicknamed "Shelby's Sweetheart" by her community, Asha Jaquilla Degree was last seen walking down a foggy highway in the early hours of Valentine's Day 2000. She was only 9 years old. Over the past two decades, there have been multiple theories explaining why Asha left her Shelby, NC, home in the middle of the night, and as of 2016, there were 350 leads on the case.
Despite these leads, one fact remains clear: No one has seen, heard from, or been able to find Asha Degree in over 20 years. Even after two decades of searching, Asha's family still believes she is alive; while this may strike some as wishful thinking, there are numerous missing persons who have been found, sometimes years after they disappeared.
The Asha Degree case is still considered an open investigation; here's everything we know.
On Valentine's Day 2000, 9-Year-Old Asha Degree Disappeared From Her Shelby, NC, Home
Asha Degree went to bed around 8 pm on the night of Sunday, February 13, 2000, after a busy weekend playing basketball, attending church, and visiting extended family. Sometime that evening, a massive power outage took out the electricity in the Degrees' home. Less than 12 hours after Asha's mother, Iquilla Degree, sent her daughter to bed following the power outage, the family discovered that Asha had gone missing.
Due to her age, Asha was not considered a runaway, and a police investigation commenced immediately after her family called 911. The ensuing investigation has led to countless dead ends, with some of these creating more questions than answers.
Asha's mother still believes that they will find the answer someday. "I’m not crazy enough to think that a 9-year-old can disappear into thin air without somebody knowing something," Iquilla stated on the 20th anniversary of Asha's disappearance.
- Video: YouTube
Asha's Father Last Saw Her Around 12:30 AM
Asha's father, Harold Degree, had returned home from work around midnight on February 14, which also happened to be the Degrees' wedding anniversary. Harold checked on Asha and her brother, O'Bryant, around 12:30 am and found the two children both sound asleep in the bedroom they shared.
Power had just been restored in the neighborhood following the area's initial outage from 9-10 pm, and it seemed as though everything was back to normal. Harold later confirmed that he went to bed at 2:30 am and had no reason to believe that his daughter had woken up, let alone left the house without him knowing. The reigning theory assumes Asha left the house sometime after 2:30 am when the rest of her family was asleep.
Asha Had Pre-Packed Her School Bag With Clothes
Asha's family initially reported that her white sneakers, white jeans, black book bag, and purse with a Tweety Bird design were the only things missing from her room, and she likely wore her nightgown as a shirt. Detective Tim Adams of the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office later reported during his 2015 reinvestigation of the case, “Apparently, she packed her bag prior to leaving, but the contents - from what we can tell - looked like something a child would pack rather than her parents preparing her for an overnight stay.”
Investigators later determined that the following items were missing from Asha's room: black overalls with a Tweety Bird design, a black-and-white striped long-sleeved shirt, a white nylon shirt, a red vest with black trim, and her "favorite" pair of jeans. Asha seemingly did not take a coat with her when she vanished, despite the night's cold, rainy weather.
- Video: YouTube
Authorities Believe Asha Voluntarily Left Her House In The Early Morning
Investigators quickly ruled out that Asha had been kidnapped from her home sometime after 2:30 am. Police could find no signs of forced entry on any of the doors or windows of the Degrees' home. In fact, all the doors to enter the house were locked, and Iquilla confirmed that Asha had her own key to the house.
The obvious answer to what happened to Asha Degree was that she woke up, got dressed, and left the house voluntarily. The mystery of why Asha would simply leave home and head towards the highway has never produced a satisfying answer. No evidence has ever been produced that Asha had an unhappy home or school life, and she generally came across as a good-natured child.