Hope, search for missing girl continue

One and one-third miles.

It’s the distance police say 9-year-old Asha Degree walked along N.C. 18.before vanishing 12 years ago.

Asha’s friends and family, bundled against the biting wind and cold, walked in Asha’s steps Tuesday.

It’s an 11-year tradition they wish could end.

“Every time it snows or rains, I think about her,” said Asha’s brother, O'Bryant Degree. “I wonder if she’s safe.”

Asha’s family last saw the Fallston Elementary student asleep in her bedroom around 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2000. An hour and a half later, drivers along N.C. 18 reportedly saw a girl matching Asha’s description walking along the road.

Asha’s parents, Harold and Iquilla Degree, reported their daughter missing by 6:30 a.m. More than a year later, Asha’s book bag was discovered buried along N.C. 18 in Burke County, according to the FBI.

Iquilla Degree said that Valentine’s Day 12 years ago seems like it was yesterday. She and her family hold the annual prayer walk along N.C. 18 to remind people that Asha is still missing. The Degree family hopes for new leads that can bring Asha home.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation hopes social media sites and a billboard campaign will provide new leads in the disappearance of Asha Degree.

On the 12th anniversary of the 9-year-old’s disappearance, the FBI launched a multimedia campaign to find more information about what happened the night Asha went missing from her bedroom, according to a Tuesday FBI press release.

The FBI will use a combination of media publicity, digital billboards and social media to generate new tips to find Asha. The FBI will also use 14 digital billboards spread throughout the Charlotte area to solicit new information in the case. The billboards will feature a photo of 9-year-old Asha and a photo of what she might look like now.

The FBI is investigating Asha’s disappearance with the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.

“I can assure you that with all my heart and all my soul and as long as I’m sheriff I’ll do everything in my power to bring Asha home,” Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman told Asha’s family members during the prayer walk.

The Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit will be reviewing Asha’s case in the near future.