CLEVELAND COUNTY, N.C. - It's been 20 years since anyone has seen Asha Degree, but on Friday, investigators released a rendering of what she could look like today, with the hope that she could still be found.
FOX 46 went back to the neighborhood where she disappeared. So many things have changed there, but the memory of a little girl is still there.
It's hard to not see the billboard advertising a reward for information on Degree’s disappearance. It’s on Fallston Road in Shelby and it’s been there for years, right outside Deejay Howell’s front door.
“It keeps you grounded. It keeps you on your toes, Howell said.
Howell has only lived on the road a short time, but has lived in Cleveland County most of his life. The girl on the billboard is someone he never knew, but has heard about the entire time he's been here.
National Center for Missing & Explioed Children/FBI
“Being in Cleveland County for 20 years, you feel for the family. You want to know more,” he said.
Asha Degree went missing in the early morning hours of February 14, 2000. She disappeared from a home along Oakcrest Drive in the early morning hours. What happened to her is a mystery that has plagued Cleveland County deputies.
"She's many things to Cleveland County. She's Cleveland County's sweetheart, and not only that, she's a granddaughter, a daughter, a sister and she's now an aunt,” Sheriff Alan Norman said.
There have been signs of things left behind: Some of her belongings found at a nearby business, some who say they saw her walking down Highway 18, a passing motorist who says he saw a young girl running into the woods, someone else said they possibly saw her get into a car.
Her book bag was found about a year after she went missing at a construction site, 30 miles away in Burke County, but there were no signs of her. At this point, they say someone knows something.
"Twenty years is too long to live with this burden, and you're living with it every day,” said Sheriff Norman.
Authorities released a new picture of what she could look like today. She would be 29 years old now. Her mother spoke in a video posted by the FBI.
"If she walked in the door right now, I wouldn't care what I’ve missed. I just want to see her,” her mom Iquilla Degree said.
For those living in the area, the constant reminder is something they don't take for granted.
“Always watch your back, pay attention to your surroundings,” Howell said.
Officials say they still sift through leads in the case and there's a real honest sense of people wanting a question answered: Where is Asha Degree? A 45,000 reward is being offered for any information.