CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Asha Jaquilla Degree vanished from Shelby during the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day 2000.
Her father, Harold Degree, last saw his daughter around 2:30 a.m. sleeping in her bed. For unknown reasons, sometime between 2:30 and 3:15 a.m., Asha walked out of the family apartment of her own accord.
The last known sighting of Asha was between 3:15 and 4:30 a.m. when two truckers spotted the 10-year-old walking south on Highway 18, just north of Shelby, near Highway 180, about a mile from her home.
One of the drivers told authorities there was a storm that morning when he saw Asha around 4:00 a.m. He thought it was strange that such a young girl was walking alone at this time of night, so he turned his truck around and circled three times. He saw her run into the woods and disappear. She has not been seen since.
At around 6:30 a.m. on February 14, 2000, Asha’s parents discovered their daughter missing and called the police. Volunteers and police began searching for Asha.
Within three days of the search, authorities found candy wrappers and a hair bow in the doorway of a tool shed at Turner’s Upholstery on Highway 18. The family identified the bow as Asha’s. Investigators found no blood or signs of a struggle or a car accident.
The case stalled for 18 months until Asha’s book bag was found double-wrapped in black trash bags more than 26 miles away and in a different direction than where Asha was walking the night she disappeared. Her name and phone number were written on the bag.
Police sent Asha’s book bag to a federal laboratory for testing, but LE has not released the results.
While authorities believe she left on her own, her family says her home life was exemplary, and there were no problems. However, Asha’s black book bag, Tweety Bird purse, a pair of jeans, sneakers, a long-sleeve white shirt with purple lettering, and a red vest were missing from her room.
Asha was in the fourth grade at Fallston Elementary School. At the time of her disappearance, her class read the book, The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman. The book centers around the story of a prince and commoner child who receives lashes on the royal’s behalf. The children proceed to run away, and the book details their adventures. Both boys return safely to the kingdom at the story’s end. It is unknown if this book catalyzed Asha’s disappearance.Meaghan Good, The Charley Project
There is a $45,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. Anyone with information about Asha can call 704-672-6100.