CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) — 22 years after a child in North Carolina went missing, her family is left with more questions than answers.
The FBI reports on Valentine's Day back in 2000, nine-year-old Asha Degree disappeared from her home in Cleveland County, North Carolina.
The fourth-grader is believed to have left in the middle of the night.
"I still believe my daughter is alive," Iquilla Degree, Asha's mother told the FBI. "I do not believe she is dead. And I know somebody knows something. I’m not crazy enough to think that a nine-year-old can disappear into thin air."
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Witnesses say they saw her walking along Highway 18, within a few miles of her home. A tipster reported she possibly got into a car.
More than a year after her disappearance, Asha’s backpack turned up at a construction site 30 miles away. Inside was a Dr. Seuss children’s book from her school library and a New Kids On The Block concert t-shirt that did not belong to her, officials say.
State investigators and the FBI continue working the case.
It continues to generate hundreds of leads, including 45 in just the past year.
An updated age-progression photograph has also been released, showing what Asha may look like today as a 29-year-old woman.
Investigators are hoping anyone with information will come forward.
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"We’re hoping and we’re praying that she’s had a halfway decent life anyway, even though we didn't get to raise her," Asha's mother told the FBI. "We’ve missed everything. But I don't care. If she walked in the door right now, I wouldn't care what I missed. All I want to do is see her."
Investigators believe the car that may have picked Asha up was a 1970s-model Lincoln Continental Mark-4 or a Ford Thunderbird with rust around the wheel wells.
There is a $45,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts. A new podcast featuring investigators working the case has been published on the FBI's website.
If you know anything, you're asked to call (704) 672-6100.