Harold and Iquilla Degree

Harold and Iquilla Degree married on Valentine’s Day in 1988. Asha was born two years later; they also have a son, O’Bryant. They raised both children in their house on Oakcrest Drive in a residential subdivision amidst a generally rural area north of Shelby, North Carolina, on the western edge of the Charlotte metropolitan area. Both worked regular jobs nearby. The children let themselves in after school, where their parents expected that they would either be doing their homework or finished with it by the time they returned.

They made sure their children were insulated from outside influences and had a life centered around their extended family, church, and school. The Degrees did not have a computer in the house. “[E]very time you turned on the TV there was some pedophile who had lured somebody’s child away, via the Internet” Iquilla recalled in a 2013 Jet interview. Iquilla said Asha handled this well; she was cautious, shy and content mostly to stay within the limits her parents set. “She was scared to death of dogs,” she recalled years later. “I never thought she would go out of the house.”

Asha was in fourth grade at nearby Fallston Elementary School going into a three-day weekend on the second week of February 2000. The Cleveland County Schoolswere closed on Friday, February 11, while the Degrees still had to work; the children spent the day at their aunt’s house in the same neighborhood, from which they went to their youth basketball practices at their school. The following day, Asha’s basketball team, on which she was a star point guard, lost its first game of the season. Asha had fouled out. Her parents recalled that she was somewhat upset about this, crying along with her teammates afterwards, but seemed to have gotten over it and watched her brother’s game afterwards.