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Missing & Black: What Happened to Asha Degree?

Asha-DegreeBy//Juleyka Lantigua Williams

As part of JET’s special investigative report on Black children who go missing—featured in the April 29, 2013 issue on stands now—we spoke with several experts to discuss the lack of mainstream coverage of these cases. Below you will find an extended interview with Iquilla Degree, the mother of 9-year-old Asha Degree, who went missing from her North Carolina bedroom over 13 years ago and has not been seen since. Here the hopeful mother shares her story and quest for closure in this case.

JET: Can you share the basic facts regarding your daughter Asha’s disappearance.

I woke up on Feb. 14, 2000 at 5:45am. The alarm went off for my children to go to school at 6:30am. I went to the bathroom, two feet away from the door, to start the bath water because they could not take a bath the night before since we had a power outage. I opened their bedroom door. My son O’Bryant was under the covers, as he usually slept. I called his name and he jumped up, as usual. I realized that Asha was not in her bed.

I looked beside his bed because sometimes she would get up at night and lay there. I asked him where she was. He didn’t know. I checked the couch. I checked downstairs. I checked the kitchen. I checked every closet in the house. I went in my room and put on clothes and told my husband, Harold, that Asha was not in the house. I checked our cars. She was not there. My husband said maybe she was in my mother-in-law’s home— she lives across the road. We called my sister-in-law’s house. She was not there. That’s when I went into panic mode. I heard a car next door. I did not have shoes on. I put shoes on and ran outside. I called my mom and told her that Asha was not in the house. She told me to hang up and call the police. I threw the phone at Harold and went outside.

JET: Please describe the initial 24-48 hours (from contacting police to getting flyers disseminated to informing family members).

By 6:40am the first police officer came and we started telling them what we woke up to. About 2-3 minutes later the Sheriff was here and more police officers were in the house. They asked for pictures. The Sheriff called for a K-9 unit but they could not find anything but my scent. By that time, every neighbor in my street was up because I was walking up and down the road screaming my child’s name. By 7 o’clock we had every cop in the county here. Every news reporter had shown up. Five or six local news channels were here. Local newspapers. By the time 7 o’clock came I was plastered all over the television. That was the first year Asha was in the 4th grade. She was upset about their first basketball loss that weekend.

Asha-Degree-posterJET: Did the police find any clues at all?

Two motorists had spotted her that morning, at 3:30am and 4:15am. That’s when they stopped looking at me as if I had something to do with it. We didn’t even have a computer because every time you turned on the TV there was some pedophile who had lured somebody’s child away.

JET: Do you recall how the case was categorized in the police report?

They put down endangered and missing as the classification in the police report. The FBI, the police department and myself agree that she went out of my house of her own free will.  She went out of one of my two doors, I don’t know which one, but she left of her own free will. She was walking on 18 South, the way her bus route went.

JET: What are your overall impressions of the media coverage Asha’s case has received so far?

Only local. A lot of my family members and I went to The Montel Williams Show. They aired the show exactly one month after she was missing—March 14. That was the most coverage we got on a national level. A month later she was featured on America’s Most Wanted, no one did an interview with us. Oprah showed her picture and the info from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Every month we get a letter from NCMEC telling us who they sent her information to.

JET: Do you perceive a difference in the coverage given in the media to cases of missing children based on race?

Most definitely. The White ladies are on every channel. We were on local channels. The only reason The Montel Williams Show knew anything is that the coach’s sister went online and she reached out to all of them. But only Montel responded. Once the local channels found out we were going to The Montel Williams Show, one of them flew up, and they flew a reporter up, too. Then we did the interview with that local channel. Missing White children get more attention. I don’t understand why. I don’t try to speculate. I know if you ask them they will say it’s not racial. Oh, really? I’m not going to argue because I have common sense.

JET: How do you keep up the search and keep Asha’s name in the media?

The local media calls us when a child is found. They want me to comment on it. They want to know how it makes me feel that another mother’s child was found, as if I would be mad. Why would I begrudge a mama who lost her child and found her? I know the hell that she has been through. There’s also a billboard 1.3 miles from my house, around the area where she was last seen. We organize a walk every year. The police department come and block off the road. We do it because that’s the way to keep her name out there because the local media cover the walk.

JET: Do you think Black-owned media has a special responsibility to publicize these cases?

If we can get it to them. But if they don’t know about the case, then, no, how could they? I think all media does. We don’t believe that she’s dead. We have never believed that she’s dead. Every time we get a call from the press we wonder why, after so many years, we are still being called. There has to be a reason. She’ll be 23 this year. I’m still looking for a person to come home, not remains.

JET: Can you give us an update on the case as it stands today.

We are still looking for her. We now have a $25,000 reward for any information leading to her return.

For more info and to report an update on a missing person, please visit the Black & Missing Foundation, Inc. at And to get the full story be sure to pick up the Missing & Black cover story, which is on newsstands now. 

  • Chloe

    Well I can tell you that it is July 2014 and I am a white woman in Charlotte, NC who is obsessed with this case. I will spend HOURS at a time speculating on what could have happened. Asha is not forgotten and never will be.

    • Molly

      Me too, Chloe. What happened to Asha?

      • findingasha

        If either of you played basketball with Asha, I'd like to ask a few questions via email (for my blog) I don't mind if you don't want your name known.

      • Chloe

        Still trying to figure it out. I had a blog post where I speculated on things, but I took it down because I don't think I have enough accurate information to speculate with. Plus, the more I think about it and the more I learn, the stranger it gets. I don't even want to post what I'm thinking now. – Chloe

        • findingasha

          Chloe, Your blog is testament to your warm heart. I am interested in what your insight is, as I have an extensive blog dedicated to finding Asha–good or otherwise. I'm also looking to interview locals via email or phone, whatever the interviewee wants. Here's the address to my blog: . You can also email me at: .
          Even the tiniest bit of info can be a major piece in the puzzling disappearance of Asha. Thanks! ~Wendy

          • chloeholly

            findingasha, I’ve totally read everything on your blog, and I use a lot of your ideas and information in coming up with what I think. I’m not sure why I’m just now seeing your response here – thought I had checked back. My opinions have changed. I’ll email you.

    • Lookin4Asha

      Same here! At the time she went missing I lived just maybe a mile fromher home- I will personally never uunderstand this case due fo the Facts: she was 9 walking in the middle of the night?!- does anyone else remember that night? The weather was hell, raining, lightning, so cold…why would she just up and leave, why- if she was terrified of dogs, would she risk running into one in the middle of the stormy cold night? I do remember the parents on the montel show- why didnt either parent look up? They both kept their eyes to the ground. If lil Asha packed her own bookbag, she wouldve had to have been able to see..she surely easnt stealth ninja quiet, her brother seen nothing??? The bookbag they dug up was made out to be Asha's according to the parents along with the lil sweater inside…all that was, was a childs bag that they had trinkets inside, not staples and maybewhat you would take Iif you were running away in the middle of a bad storm!!! Thiese sightings- I feel that if she HAD for certain, been spotted someone seeing a lil girl in the streets during a storm in the wee hours wouldve contacted police … I know that I would have! I think those folks seen someone else, ill never believe they seen Asha! Dad said he checked on the kids at 2:30am…she was sound asleep, within the hour she has changed, packed and made it thst far down the road? BS!!!! I feel that this is NOT A BLACK OR WHITE ordeal…, I feel like not every child gets media attention, thats all. Trayvon martin ran my television line up for how long?! I get tired of bet, jet, ebony and other outlets of the media based on the black community using the race card to get attention. ..let's you and I stick that one back in the deck and start playing a different hand. Go ahead and bash me if you want too. These are my feelings and opinions m…oh let us not forget that the rae corruth trial was happening to. But im a black woman. Strong – not as independent as id likecto be, not aftican American queen, no sort of diva…just a black girl doin with life the best I can

      • chloeholly

        Lookin4Asha, I don’t know why I missed your post before now, but I’m just now in April 2017 seeing your post. You have some very interesting ideas, and I’m going to read them a few times so they sink in and I remember them, plus copy and paste them into my notes – credit to you of course. I wish I had seen the Montel Williams show. I can’t believe this hasn’t been solved yet. It’s really sad that there can be 3 years between posts and it’s all still relevant.

  • neurotruth

    Same here. I'm a white woman obsessed with this case. Such a cute little girl. I hope her family gets closure…whatever that means. It's so sweet that they've stayed at the same address and kept the same phone number all these years.

    This story is so unlike other missing children stories that it would DEFINITELY be all over the news if she were white. It's on par with the JonBenet case in terms of mysteriousness. Why would a child leave without a coat in the middle of a freezing night? How did she get out without anyone hearing her leave? So many questions.

    Love and prayers for the family.

    • findingasha

      Hi Neurotruth,
      I hope you can stop by my blog. It's all about Asha Degree's disappearance. I hope with your and other's interest we can find this family a bit of hope. I wrote a reply above regarding the blog.
      Thanks to you and all who care for Asha and her family.

  • cassie

    I went to fallston with asha but now live in panama city,fl i love that girl like a best friend. I remember being in nc and helping look for her! To her mom i may be 550 miles away iam 24 and i have two little boys but if i can help any please let me know heres my email and asha's missing pictures are still on this day feb.5.2015 posted at every walmart in panama city,fl

  • Race Card

    I'm a white guy sitting in Charlotte, and I've stayed interested in and have seen numerous updates in the news about this case. Not sure why everyone feels it necessary to throw the race card down at every chance, when it doesn't appear to apply to this situation at all. Why would you want to alienate a large portion of the population, instead of focusing on keeping people's attention that might help – Montel Williams coverage isn't going to help nearly as much as local coverage.

  • findingasha

    I'm the owner/writer of the blog, . I'm offering $75 for a tape/DVD of the 3/14/2000 episode of The Montel Williams show featuring the Degrees entitled, 'Help Me Find My Loved One.' I've appealed for it on the blog which is quite extensive. CBS blew me off but I'm not done trying. I also need the complete weather conditions for the day (2/14/2000) beginning at 12:00 a.m. There is a money award for that, too. Anyone willing to help, please let me know. I'm also appealing to all crime sleuths to review all pages of the (non-monetized) blog and offer your well-thought feedback. I'm NOT looking to claim the reward money (which I would never do). Thanks so much. It's not a matter of race; it's being a human and caring.

    • Sarah

      The only information I have on February 14, 2000 is at 2:00 pm it was 65.4° F

      • findingasha

        Thank you, Sarah. I was fortunate enough to have some folks talking about my blog on reddit and someone saw my plea and sent me the official weather information for the month! I'm very happy so many people like you care about Asha and know here case by name, age, year; many know the specifics of her disappearance, so I know she's not forgotten and still discussed on many forum posts. Plus, I've had visitors to my blog from all corners of the globe–even Taiwan and the Netherlands. Thank you again, Sarah.

  • Connie Bradley

    Has anyone or did anyone interview any inmates in jail or prisons at the time? A lot of times they will confide in or brag to another inmate that they know something or did something or know who did!!! Just wondering!

    • Guest

      That's fine