The FBI is not giving up on finding a Cleveland County girl — or finding out what happened to her — who went missing 17 years ago.
The FBI announced Wednesday that the FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team is joining the ongoing search for Asha Degree.
Asha’s book bag was found in Burke County more than a year after she went missing in the early morning hours of Feb. 14, 2000. She was 9 years old. She would be 26 years old now.
The rapid deployment team will provide on-the-ground investigative, technical, behavioral analysis, and analytical support to find out more about what happened to Asha, according to a release from the FBI on Wednesday.
The team will be working with FBI Charlotte employees, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office investigators and North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation agents. FBI CARD team members are highly trained and experienced experts on missing children cases, the agency says. CARD teams respond across the country and around the world when a child is missing and, recently, the FBI began to use the experience and talent of the teams to review unsolved cases, the release said.
The FBI and Cleveland County have continued to investigate the case throughout the years.
Last year, the FBI put out information about a car that Asha was seen getting into the morning she disappeared. The vehicle was described as a dark - green , early - model 1970s Lincoln Mark IV or possibly a Ford Thunderbird with rust around the wheel wells, according to information from the FBI at the time.
The FBI and the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office received information that someone matching Asha’s description may have been seen getting into the distinctive vehicle along N.C. 18 in Shelby, where she was last seen.
Asha’s family last saw her asleep in her bedroom at around 2:30 a.m. on the morning she went missing but she was seen later around 4 a.m. walking down N.C. 18 in Shelby, according to FBI information. Her parents reported her missing by 6:30 a.m.
A resident found Asha’s book bag inside of a trash bag that had been buried along N.C. 18 South in Burke County more than a year after she went missing.
In 2015, retired Burke County Sheriff John McDevitt, who was sheriff in 2000, said the book bag was found during the process of excavating an area for a driveway. He said the Burke County Sheriff’s Office sealed up the book bag as evidence and gave it to the sheriff’s office in Cleveland County. He said he never heard about it again.
McDevitt said investigators with Cleveland County at the time searched along N.C. 18 South in Burke County after the book bag was found.
The FBI release on Wednesday said that based on its investigation, there is reason to believe that people in Shelby and Cleveland County or the surrounding area have knowledge of, or information about, Asha’s disappearance.
The FBI is continuing to offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to the person or people responsible for Asha’s disappearance. The community and Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office are also offering an additional $20,000 reward.
The FBI release said Adam’s Outdoor Advertising will be displaying Asha’s picture on a number of digital billboards around the Charlotte area. The company is donating available space to help publicize the case.
Those with information on Asha’s disappearance should call 1-800-CALL-FBI.
Sharon McBrayer is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 828-432-8946.