Asha Degree was a 9 year-old girl who disappeared in the year 2000. She inexplicably packed some belongings and started walking on a highway in the dead of night.

Her disappearance is widely considered to be one of the most baffling in American history. There are so many unanswered questions, including those surrounding her disappearance.

This article takes a look at this disappearance. There is a reader’s poll at the end of the article, which we invite you to vote on. We will then be able to see what the most popular theory is among our readers to explain what happened.

Asha inexplicably left to walk on a highway at the dead of night

Background

Asha Degree lived in the city of Shelby, North Carolina, United States. At the time of her disappearance, she was aged just 9.

Her parents were Harold and Iquilla Degree. Asha had an older sibling named O’Bryant. They had lived in the area for Asha’s whole life.

Leading up to Asha’s disappearance, there were no signs of anything troubling her. It just seemed as if she was a normal 9 year-old girl.

The Disappearance

Asha and her brother went to bed around 8pm on Sunday 13th February. At around 9pm, there was a car accident in the vicinity, which led to a power-cut in the neighbourhood.

After the power returned, Asha’s father Harold went to check on his children, who were both asleep. He checked again just before he was heading to bed – which was around 2.30am.

At some point in the next hour, Asha vanished. By now it was in the early hours of 14th February 2000. O’Bryant heard Asha’s bed creak. Having assumed she was purely changing her sleeping position, he went back to sleep.

It is believed that this sound was Asha leaving her bed. She packed her bookbag, clothes and other items, and left her home. The exact time she left is not known.

Asha walked along North Carolina Highway 18 on her own. While this was bizarre in itself, at the time there was heavy rain and strong winds – making it difficult conditions to walk in.

Many motorists passed Asha, as she was walking on the roadside and therefore visible. At around 4am, one motorist named Jeff Ruppe turned around to check on her. At this point, Asha was around 1.3miles away from her home – meaning she had walked over a mile in the treacherous conditions.

However, as the car got closer, Asha ran into a wooded area next to the highway. Unfortunately, Asha has not been seen since.

Her mother Iquilla went to wake up her children at around 6.30am. However, she found that Asha was not in her room. Iquilla checked the house thoroughly, but could not see Asha anywhere.

After checking the surrounding area – including a family member across the street – there was still no sign of Asha. The family raised the alarm to the Police.

The Investigation

The Police arrived rapidly, having made it to the house within 15 minutes of the first phone call. Police dogs were called in an effort to pick up Asha’s scent, although this failed to gain any traction.

A search party formed, with friends and family members going round the area shouting Asha’s name. Members of the nearby Church came to the Degree household to support the family.

Despite the surrounding area being searched all day, there was no sign of Asha. The disappearance drew the attention of local news companies.

Due to this coverage, it resulted in an appeal for anyone that might have seen Asha to come forward. The aforementioned Ruppe did, who believed it was strange that “such a small child would be out by herself at that hour”.

The motorist, and others, were believed to be talking about Asha, as they gave a description consistent with one another, including her clothing and the direction of Asha’s movements.

Based on this, the search party widened their area to include the area along the highway. On the 15th of February, there were signs of progress. Sweet wrappers were found in an area along the highway. Moreover, colouring pencils and a yellow hairbow were found. Asha’s parents confirmed that these belonged to her.

Hundreds of possible sightings and tips were submitted to the Police. However, none of these proved to substantially aid the investigation.

Over the course of the next week, almost 3 square miles was searched to try and find Asha. However, there were no signs of her. In total, almost 10,000 hours had been committed to the search.

Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the week, the search was called off. It seemed that Asha had simply vanished without a trace. For her family, the news left them distraught.

The Police worked on the belief that Asha had decided to run away from her home. They believed that she had planned this several days before.

The case became very popular, with the disappearance being mentioned on America’s Most Wanted and The Oprah Winfrey Show – two popular TV shows.

To try and raise further awareness, a large billboard was installed on Highway 18, which featured a picture of Asha.

The Police continued to investigate, and were receptive to any leads. But as the weeks and then months went by, hopes of Asha being found lowered.

Later Developments

Over the years, the case continued to attract interest. The case was baffling – why would a 9 year-old girl leave her home, and what then happened to her?

The first major development came in August 2001 – approximately 18 months after Asha vanished. Her bookbag was discovered during a construction project near the highway. The bookbag was found within a plastic bag – approximately 27 miles away from the Ruppe sighting.

The FBI took the bookbag to a laboratory to conduct analysis. The bookbag contained items that the Degree family believed didn’t belong to Asha. This was specifically a t-shirt and a book.

Moreover, the book bag was buried and discovered double-wrapped in the bags. For many, this confirmed that Asha had fallen victim to foul play, and that someone had intentionally hit the bookbag.

In 2004, a tip-off led to the digging of grounds in a nearby town called Lawndale. However, while bones were found, these belonged to an animal, rather than a human.

In 2013, Asha’s mother Iquilla criticised the supposed lack of media attention – suggesting that Asha received less attention because she was black. This is an example of the apparent “Missing White Woman Syndrome” – which suggests disappearances involving white women receive more media attention than those from ethnic minorities and men.

Another development came in 2016, when a new strand of investigation led to the FBI coming up with the suggestion that Asha got into a dark green car on the night of her disappearance.

The FBI supposedly received this information, with their announcement reading that someone matching Asha’s description may have been seen getting into “an early 1970s Lincoln Mark IV or possibly a Ford Thunderbird, dark green”.

The case of Asha Degree still has a $25,000 reward for “information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for her disappearance”.

Asha’s mother Iquilla has remained confident that one day Asha will return. But with the years going by, the chances of this appear to be low. Asha’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Asha’s disappearance is one of the most notorious in American history

Theories

There are many questions attached to this case. There are a few different theories that have been put forward to suggest what might have happened.

We take a look at the evidence for each theory:

Theory One: Asha Degree ran away from home and died in the woods

One of the most common theories is that Asha ran away from her home and died in the woods. The Police believed that she had planned her disappearance.

If this is the case, then we know the weather was terrible, and with it being pitch black, could Asha have got lost in the woods? It certainly seems likely. She could have fallen to her death or succumbed to the elements.

However, there are flaws in this theory. Firstly, given how significant the search was, it would seem unlikely that she wouldn’t be found.

Also, arguably the biggest piece of evidence against this theory – this wouldn’t explain how her bookbag made it 27 miles away. It is surely not feasible that she walked all of that way by herself. Someone had to have put it there.

Theory Two: Asha Degree was abducted and later killed

In light of the above, many people believe that Asha was abducted and then later killed. It seems incredibly strange that her bookbag would be hidden. Therefore, surely someone was involved and hid the bookbag themselves.

Asha was walking alone at night and in bad conditions. She could easily have been abducted by an opportunistic predator. Sadly, it is likely that she would have been killed at some point after any abduction occurred.

There is also the 2016 update from the FBI, who stated that Asha may have been seen entering the dark green car. This could have been an abduction.

There isn’t too much evidence to suggest this theory is incorrect. Although, it would be incredibly unfortunate for Asha to be caught by a predator who just so happened to be in the area at the time. Could someone really be this unfortunate?

Theory Three: Asha Degree ran away from home and remains alive

Some have argued that Asha may actually still be alive. It appears that she wanted to run away from home, and it looks like she followed through with this.

It is unlikely, but possible, that Asha survived on the streets for a while. She may therefore potentially be still alive to this day, but choosing to not return home.

However, it could be argued this isn’t too feasible. Asha had a well-known face and would have surely been spotted. People also would typically report a stray 9 year-old girl to the Police. Furthermore, she surely would have come forward at some point to return home or at least make contact with her parents.

Theory Four: There was parental involvement in Asha Degree’s disappearance

There has also been the suggestion that there was a form of parental involvement in Asha’s disappearance.

This centres around the suggestion that Asha’s father Harold didn’t really check on her at 2.30am, and that he was somehow involved in her disappearance. Or maybe by this point she was already dead, due to an accident.

It would also require the sightings of Asha to be false. As there were numerous sightings, it does somewhat discredit this theory. But it could be argued that given the conditions, the sightings may not be accurate.

However, in the absence of Asha’s body, some have suggested parental involvement could be a possibility. Could the family have planted the hair bow, pencils and bookbag? The parents have been steadfast in their accounts that Asha must have left on her own accord. Could they be trying to redirect the truth?

But most do paint a picture of the Degree parents being very good people, and loving their children. This has led to many discounting this theory.

Reader Vote

With the above theories in mind, we now invite you to vote on the theory that you believe is most likely in the poll below.

What Happened to Asha Degree?
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Summary

The disappearance of Asha Degree is a troubling, tragic, and confusing case. There are so many unanswered questions, with her disappearance shrouded in mystery.

The case has attracted significant attention, but there have been no substantial leads in recent times. The mystery over what happened will continue.

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