Case File Overview
On February 14th, 2000 nine-year-old Asha Degree vanished without a trace.
Before heading to bed, Asha’s dad checked on her at 2:30 am and found her asleep in her bed. Asha and her brother O’Bryant shared a bedroom. O’Bryant said he heard noises in the early morning hours but assumed it was his sister tossing and turning in bed.
When Iquilla went to wake up her children for school at approximately 6:30 am, Asha was nowhere to be found.
There was no sign of forced entry, and all of the doors were locked.
Two truck drivers reported seeing Asha walking south on North Carolina Highway 18 around a mile from her home between 3:30 am and 4:15 am. The truckers saw Asha leave the roadway and disappear out of sight.
Three days after Asha disappeared her pencil, marker, and Mickey Mouse hair bow were found in a toolshed at Turner’s Upholstery, located along North Carolina Highway 18 close to where the truckers spotted Asha.
In August 2001, a contractor clearing a lot discovered Asha’s bookbag. It was double wrapped in black plastic bags and buried more than 26 miles away from her home. It was sent for tests, but the results have never been made public.
The authorities and Asha’s family searched tirelessly for Asha, but her disappearance remains unsolved.
Date of birth: August 5th, 1990
Age at time of disappearance: 9 years old
Height and weight: 4′ 6″ (137 cm) and 60 lbs (27 kg)
Distinguishing characteristics: African-American female; black hair, brown eyes; typically styled her hair in pigtails
Clothing description: Likely a white t-shirt, white jeans, and white sneakers
Case File Theories
One of the most ridiculous theories in this case bandied about the internet is that sleepwalking caused Asha’s death. It’s never been proven that she suffered from sleepwalking. And she would have had to change her clothes and grab her belongings in her sleep without waking up her brother who slept only a few feet away. Even more, did a sleeping Asha really lock the door behind her when she left the house? Additionally, it was freezing cold outside, windy, and pouring rain. Could Asha have slept through this kind of inclement weather? Did she manage to stumble into someone’s pool and drown or get hit by a passing vehicle while sleepwalking? I doubt it. In the end, I give very little credence to the idea that Asha sleepwalked to her death.
Murdered by a family member
Was Asha murdered by a family member? Given that stranger abductions are so rare, when children disappear from their homes in the middle of the night suspicion is usually cast on the child’s family. In this case, however, the family was quickly cleared by the police. By all accounts, Asha lived a happy, if somewhat sheltered, life. The authorities don’t even hint that Asha was murdered by a family member. Also, Asha’s parents have worked tirelessly to find her, seem genuinely distraught, and have remained in the family home for decades on the off chance that Asha might come home. Asha’s mom explained, “I never suspected my husband or my son. Not ever, never ever.” Although possible, it’s highly improbable that Asha was murdered by a family member.
Abducted from home
Was Asha abducted from her home in the middle of the night? This is a near-impossible theory. Could an abductor have happened by the house in the short window of opportunity they would have had to take her? Also, how could Asha have been abducted without waking up her brother who was sleeping only a few feet away? Plus, there was no sign of forced entry and all of the doors were locked. Lastly, if she was abducted from her home, how could two truckers have spotted her walking along North Carolina Highway 18 on the night of her disappearance? I think it’s implausible to think that a sleeping Asha was abducted from her home.
Did Asha run away from home? This is the likeliest scenario; however, what compelled Asha to leave home and what happened to her after she left remains a mystery.
Asha left home on her own
The police think that Asha packed her bookbag in advance so she could leave without disturbing anyone. Also, Asha had a key to the house. She could have locked the door behind her when she left. However, the police were unable to find any evidence that Asha was abused or had an unhappy home life. What would compel a nine-year-old girl to run away? There is some talk that Asha was upset that her team recently lost a basketball game, but I doubt this would cause her to leave home. Also, her class was reading The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman before Asha vanished. The story follows the adventures of two characters that run away. But if she wanted to embark on an adventure, would Asha really choose to leave in the middle of a dark, stormy night? And if she decided to run away on her own, what happened to her? Did a stranger murder her? Was she kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking? Could a driver have accidentally struck her and hid her body? The heartbreaking options are almost endless.
Asha was talked into running away
Many people also think that Asha was convinced to run away from home by someone she knew. The question, though, is who would have had the opportunity to get close enough to Asha to convince her to run away. Asha and her brother reportedly led a sheltered life and didn’t even have a computer in the house. Remember that some of Asha’s belongings were found in a toolshed approximately a mile from her home. Was Asha convinced to meet someone there? And if so, how did someone get close enough to Asha to influence her to run away?
What do you think happened to Asha Degree?
Asha’s family holds out hope that she’s still alive. Asha’s mom said, “I’m still expecting to see her walking in the door. When everyone else says this child’s dead, I don’t feel it.”
Investigators also still believe that they’ll find Asha. They have followed hundreds of leads, and new ones keep turning up. For instance, in January 2014 Donald Preston Ferguson plead guilty to the 1990 murder of seven-year-old Shalonda S. Poole. Investigators tried to link Ferguson to Asha’s disappearance due to the geographic proximity of the crimes and the victimology but failed. Also, in May 2016, the police released information about a vehicle Asha may have been seen entering on the night of her disappearance. The vehicle is described as an early 1970s Lincoln Mark IV or a Ford Thunderbird with rust around the wheel wells. Nothing, though, has ever come of this lead.
Asha’s loved ones deserve answers. Asha’s mother has said that not knowing what happened to her daughter “is worse than death, because with death you have closure. With this, there’s no closure.” Let’s help Asha and her family find some sense of closure.
The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward, and the community an additional $20,000 reward, for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Asha’s disappearance.
Anyone with information about Asha’s disappearance should call FBI Charlotte at 704-672-6100.
Related listening and reading
Missing person: Asha Degree – FBI website
Asha Jaquilla Degree – Charley Project website
Asha Degree – NamUs website
“Family still hopeful on anniversary of girl’s disappearance” – WSOCTV.com article
“After 15 years, family keeps searching for Asha Degree” – WCNC.com article
“Specialized FBI team joins investigation into Asha Degree’s disappearance” – WSOCTV.com article
“Where is Asha?” – Shelby Star article
The disappearance of Asha Degree – Thinking Sideways podcast
Asha Degree – The Trail Went Cold podcast
The vanishing of Asha Degree – Trace Evidence podcast