Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 33 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.
NewsOne has partnered with the Black and Missing Foundation to focus on the crisis of missing African Americans.
To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile a missing person weekly and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing.
Asha Degree as a child (left) and what she would look like as an adult (right)
Asha Jaquilla Degree
Case Type: Endangered
DOB: Aug. 5, 1990
Missing Date: February 14, 2000
Age Now: 24
Missing City: Shelby
Missing State: North Carolina
Case Number: Unknown
Hair Color: Black
Hair Length: Shoulder Length
Eye Color: Brown
Wear Glasses or Contacts: No
Location Last Seen: Nine-year-old Asha Degree disappeared from her home in Shelby, N.C. at about 2:30 a.m. the morning of Valentine’s Day, 2000. The last time her parents saw her she was asleep in her bed. When they went to check on her at 6:30 a.m. Degree was gone.
Circumstances of Disappearance: Around 4 a.m., drivers reported seeing Degree walking along North Carolina Highway 18, the last reported sightings of the girl.
One driver said he found it odd that a little girl would be out during a storm and circled around to investigate. That’s when he saw the child run into the woods.
Almost a year later, Degree’s backpack was found buried in a trash bag 26 miles away along the same Highway in Burke County, according to the FBI.
“The theory is that some time during the night she gets up,” Cleveland County Sheriff’s Det. Pete Hamrick told ABC News (see the video above). “She walks out of the house and heads down 18 South towards Shelby. Several people say that they see her. But no one stops to make sure she’s okay. She runs off into the woods. And no one has seen her since.”
Now the FBI is renewing efforts to find out what happened to Degree, who would have turned 24 this year. A $25,000 reward has been added for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever was responsible for her disappearance, FBI Charlotte public affairs specialist Shelley Lynch told NewsOne in an interview.
“This has been an ongoing investigation for 15 years. We have not stopped investigating and we have continued to follow leads and to advance the case,” said Lynch. “We are assuming foul play was involved.”
To help with the effort, the FBI asked the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to create an age-progressed photo to show what Degree might look like today. The image is being displayed on billboards in the Charlotte area, distributed via social media and delivered to residents and businesses in the area near where Degree was last seen.
“Agents are going through the case from the beginning to look back at everything to see if there is anything different,” said Lynch.
That includes the vital clue of Degree’s backpack.
“That’s been a key point in the investigation,” said Lynch. “Part of what we are doing is making sure we have exhausted every lead. We may be retesting some of the evidence, because there have been many advances in forensics over the years.”
Degree’s parents Harold and Iquilla Degree say they have never given up hope that their daughter is alive.
“We don’t believe she’s dead. We’re looking for a person, okay? There are other people looking for remains, but we’re looking for a person,” Iquilla Degree told WBTV.com
Lynch hopes that the renewed effort will eventually lead to the case being solved.
“We think that someone has information about what happened to Asha,” said Lynch. “There is no piece of information too small to report to us. If anyone has any information that may be helpful that has not been reported in the past, we encourage then to come forward.”
Last Seen Wearing: Unknown
Identifying Marks or Characteristics: None
Anyone with information regarding the circumstances of Asha Jaquilla Degree‘s disappearance may contact the FBI’s Charlotte office at 704-672-6100 or the Black and Missing Foundation’s confidential Tip Line.