Search continues 20 years later for missing 9-year-old girl

CLEVELAND COUNTY, NC (WITN) - Twenty years ago today a nine-year-old North Carolina girl was last seen alive.

Asha Degree was walking along Highway 18 outside of Shelby around 4:00 a.m. that morning, but motorists did not call police. The FBI says her parents reported her missing a few hours later when they woke up and found the girl's bed empty.

More than a year later, Asha's bookbag was found buried along the same highway, only 30 miles away.

On this 20th anniversary, the family still holds out hope that someone comes forward with information. "That's my prayer every night, that God will get into their heart and let them just come forward—or somebody that knows them come forward—because it's got to be a weight on them," said Asha's mother, Iquilla Degree.

The FBI continues to offer a $25,000 reward in the case, while the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office has a $20,000 reward. Investigators meet regularly to review the case and explore any new leads.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Childen recently created a new age-progressed photo of what Asha would look like at 29 years old.

"We're hoping and we're praying that she's had a halfway decent life even though we didn't get to raise her," said her mom. "She was 9 years old and she'll be 30 this year. So, 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."

If anyone has information on Asha Degree they're urged to call the FBI at (704) 672-6100 or the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office at (704) 484-4822.