The case of

Kelley Stage-Clayton

Victim

Kelley Stage-Clayton

Victim Race

African American

Victim Date of Birth

1990-08-05

Victim Age

9

Date Reported

2000-02-14

Date of Death

N/A

Case Status

Cold

Incident Location

Shelby, North Carolina

Body Location

N/A

Date of Conviction

N/A

Body Discovered Date

N/A

Murderer

N/A

Who was Asha Degree?

Asha Jaquilla Degree was born August 5th 1990 in Shelby, North Carolina, the second born child to parents Harold Degree and Iquilla Degree. She was just 1 year younger than her older brother O’Bryant. The family were described as being fairly close knit, with some of their extended family living just up the street.

The family were also religious and centred their lives around the church and their children’s schooling. As parents, they attempted to keep their children away from outside influences, they were very protective of their children and limited things like their television hours as well as not having a computer in the house. This is due to Harold and Iquilla’s concerns regarding online predators.

In 2000 9 year old Asha Degree was a 4th grader at Fallston Elementary School, with a near perfect attendance record, known to perform excellently in science and maths. Both Asha and her brother shared a love of basketball with both of them playing for the Fallston Elementary School’s team

Asha was often described as being a cautious, shy and timid girl, tending to obey the rules laid out by her parents. She tended to only go out, to go to church, school or see family, with it being known that she was fearful of dogs, strangers and the dark.

Leading Up to The Disappearance

Sunday 13th February, the Degree’s attended church as per usual. The family would then spend the afternoon at Asha’s aunt’s house before retiring to bed at around 8pm in Asha and O’Bryant’s shared room. Asha in particular, was very tired after the previous night’s sleepover. As they slept a heavy thunderstorm raged through the skies of Shelby, causing Asha to wake up at around 9pm due to the loud thunder and lightning.

She was frightened by such storms and proceeded to get out of bed and watch some TV with her mum and brother in the living room. Not too long after, a car crashed into a nearby electricity pole and caused a power outage in the Fallston neighborhood. This prompted the children to be sent to bed for the night. The power was out for about 3 and a half hours only coming back on at around 12:30am, at which time Harold returned home from work.

The Disappearance

When Harold got home he checked on the children, who he observed were both fast asleep and in their beds. He stayed up for a couple more hours and checked again on his children at around 2:30am, with both children fast asleep in their beds still, before retiring to his own bed for the night.

In the early hours of 14th February 2000, a short while after her father had gone to bed, the 10 year old O’Bryant heard his sister’s bed squeak. He simply assumed that Asha was tossing and turning in her bed, or had gotten up to go to the bathroom, he fell back asleep thinking nothing of it.

At 5:45 am Iquilla woke up and began to run a bath for the kids as they were unable to have one the night before due to the power cut. It was an important day as not only was it valentine’s day but it was also Asha’s parents wedding anniversary. At around 6:30am she went into the children’s bedroom to wake them up for school. While O’Bryant was still fast asleep under his covers, Asha was nowhere to be found.

After Iquilla thoroughly searched the residence for the 9-year-old girl including in the family cars, she could not find Asha anywhere. She woke her husband who decided to call their nearby family to see if maybe she was there, but indeed she wasn’t. They then called the police, who got the family’s home about 10 minutes later.

Investigation Details

The Cleveland County Sheriff’s office, who responded at about 6:40 am, brought dogs to try to pick up Asha’s scent, but were unfortunately unable to do so. It is thought that the thunderstorm hindered this process pretty significantly.

By 7am most of the neighborhood had been roused and were helping in the search for the shy 9-year-old girl. Volunteers and family spent all of that day searching for any sign of Asha, with even a helicopter was brought in to search using infrared heat detection. Alas, no trace of Asha was found.

After some local news outlets reported on the case, two truck drivers came forward with some information that only proved to add to the mystery further. 3 witnesses in total explained how they had seen a girl matching Asha’s description walking along the North Carolina highway 18 between 3:45 and 4:15 am.

This is about a mile or so away from the Degree home. With the thunderstorm still raging at this point, one of the drivers was very concerned at the sight of a child walking alone along the highway and attempted to approach Asha to offer her some help. However, she scarpered and disappeared into the nearby woods. This is estimated to be the last time Asha Jaquilla Degree was seen alive.

Three days later, when looking in a toolshed in the wooded area police discovered several candy wrappers, a pencil, a marker pen, and a mickey mouse hair bow. All of these items were confirmed by Harold and Iquilla to have belonged to Asha. It is presumed that Asha took shelter from the storm here.

After looking through Asha’s belongings, her parents discovered that some items had in fact disappeared alongside Asha: her black book bag containing her house keys, her tweety bird purse and a number of her favorite clothes. Due to the lack of necessities missing it is believed by authorities that it was Asha who packed this bag.

Authorities believe she had been planning her departure for at least a few days prior to her disappearance. There were no signs of forced entry, all the doors and windows had been locked, making it clear that she probably left not through force but of her own accord. Although, it is still a possibility that she was kidnapped after her departure or she was lured away.

The search was called off on February 20th after no more clues were uncovered. Although, there was continued reporting on the case from the media in the hopes of turning up more tips and leads. All members of the Degree family passed polygraph tests and were fully cooperative with law enforcement during the investigation, no evidence suggested that they were involved.

3rd August 2001, nine-year-old Asha Degree’s black book bag was found buried in Morganton Burke County by a contractor digging an access road. This is approximately 26 miles north of the Degree home. This discovery made investigators almost certain that Asha had been met with foul play.

Almost 20 Years On

In February 2015, the FBI started reinvestigating the case alongside Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office investigators, as well as North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation. At this time, they released two images of a book (McElligot’s pool) and a red and white new kids on the block concert t-shirt. According to investigators, while neither of these items belonged to Asha, the band t-shirt and book are paramount in solving the case.

It is also rumored that she was seen getting into a distinctive dark green early 1970’s model car on the night in question. This information was released in 2016, with the understanding that the car was either a Ford Thunderbird or a Lincoln Mark IV.

It is reported that since 2017 investigators have held over 300 interviews in a bid to find new information. They believe that the truth lies within Cleveland County itself; someone must know what happened to Asha.

Harold and Iquilla Degree have continued to keep Asha’s memory alive, setting up a scholarship in her name and every year walking from their home to the place Asha was last seen to raise awareness.

In 2020 the now 20-year-old Asha Degree case received a newly released age progression photo from the National Center for Missing and Exploited children.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Is Asha Degree?

It is unknown where Asha Degree is, she mysteriously disappeared seemingly without a trace in 2000 and has not been found since.

How old would Asha Degree be now?

Nine-year-old Asha Degree would be turning 32 this year (2022).

Was Asha Degree ever found?

Nine year old Asha Degree went missing on valentines day in 2000 and is yet to be located, it is currently unknown if she is dead or alive.

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