What happened to 5-year-old Summer Wells? What we know since she went missing

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Tennessee AMBER Alert – Summer Wells (Photos: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Summer’s mother – Candus Wells)

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HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s been over a week since Summer Wells was first reported missing. Here’s a look at some of the major developments revealed so far as the search for the five-year-old Rogersville girl and the investigation into her disappearance continue.

What Summer Wells looks like

Summer Moon-Utah Wells is 3-feet tall with blonde hair and blue eyes. She was reported to be barefoot and wearing a pink shirt and gray shorts before she went missing.

Related: Mother of Summer Wells filed protective order against husband in 2020: ‘I am afraid for my children and myself’

When and where was Summer last seen?

She was first reported as last seen Tuesday, June 15 walking near her home on Ben Hill Road in the Beech Creek community, wearing a pink shirt and gray shorts.

According to her father, Donald Wells, Summer was planting flowers just before her disappearance. He spoke with Nexstar’s News Channel 11 about what he remembers that night.

“She was planting flowers with her mother and her grandmother and she wanted to go into the house, so my wife watched her go into the door and she went into the house,” Wells said. “And the boys were on the internet of course, and she wanted to go downstairs and play with her toys. So when her mother [came] in and she says, ‘Summer’ and she went down into the basement and she didn’t answer. So she went down there and she was gone.”

Related: Summer Wells’ mother shares TikTok videos of missing daughter

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said a family member reported her missing to the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office around 6:30 p.m. EST that night.

TBI first issued an Endangered Child Alert before the AMBER Alert

After Summer was reported missing, the TBI issued an Endangered Child Alert for her at 12:07 a.m EST. At the time she was reported to be 4 years old in TBI’s first tweet.

On Wednesday, June 16, TBI chose to upgrade to a statewide AMBER Alert for Summer at 11:08 a.m. EST because of “new information and growing concern.”

On the same day, TBI issued updated photos of Summer that the agency said best represented the five-year-old’s current appearance and hair length.

TBI: No evidence currently points to an abduction

While Summer’s dad thinks “someone snuck up on her and grabbed her,” TBI Public Information Officer, Leslie Earhart, reiterated on Monday that the circumstances leading to her disappearance remain unclear.

“While we’ve not ruled out an abduction, we simply do not have any evidence at this point to confirm that’s what occurred,” Earhart said. “For that reason, the ground search for Summer continues. It’s possible that she wandered off and is lost and afraid.”

As of Friday, the agency said they have received nearly 400 tips in the investigation. Foul play has also not been ruled out at this time.

TBI: Summer Wells case is ‘definitely outside the norm’

“In order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, we can’t discuss everything we are doing, and have done, to find Summer,” Earhart said during a briefing on June 24.

Despite all efforts in the investigation, Earhart said the circumstances leading to Summer’s disappearance, remain unclear. “While every case is different, this one is definitely outside of the norm.”

At the same June 24 media briefing, Earhart said officials are holding out hope as they do everything they can, “we typically would have found a child at this stage in the investigation, so honestly, we just don’t know.”

Terrain and tech issues have impacted the search for Summer

During a June 17 press conference, two days after Summer was reported missing, Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said crews had faced issues communicating in the field, “We can hardly communicate at all on our radios, and cell phones are out of the question.”

AT&T and Verizon have brought cell signal boosters to help increase reception, but Incident Commander of Ground Search Captain Tim Coup said service was “still spotty.”

Another issue crews have had to deal with is the area itself. The rough terrain presented a challenge in the search efforts early on. It’s also why, as Coup explained, investigators had not asked for volunteers to help in the search.

“Due to the extreme terrain, the nature of this, trying to locate her, trained professionals [are] what we need at this time to make sure that these residents don’t become endangered…and expand this issue with having to search for somebody else,” Coup said on June 17.

The extreme conditions from the terrain and heat are making things harder as the search continues, exhausting crews both mentally and physically. Additional resources from the local, state, and federal level are being used to bring in fresh eyes and rested bodies to the search.

“Everyone now is getting mentally, physically, emotionally, just drained,” said Sheriff Lawson on June 24. “We’re going to rehab and start back again, but we’re not going to stop. We’re gonna find Summer.”

More than 100 agencies have assisted in the search – by land, water, and air

There have been 106 agencies involved in search efforts from Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. Crews have covered over 3,000 acres, roughly 4.6 square miles, so far since the search began for Summer Moon-Utah Wells last week.

Aircraft units are being used to keep an eye on the area overnight when the ground search effort is paused unless crews are following up on a lead.

“At the evening time, it is too treacherous and too dangerous, unless TBI or the sheriff’s department gets a lead that they need us to go help assist on,” Coup explained. “Too dangerous for us to keep our guys up in these mountains in this treacherous terrain at nighttime. But I want you guys to know, and rest assured, along with the community, that search efforts due to not stop when it gets dark.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is one of the agencies involved in the search. On June 24, FBI Public Affairs Officer Darrell DeBusk said the FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Team had been deployed to assist in the search for Summer.

“FBI CARD Teams consist of highly trained and experienced subject-matter experts, including FBI agents, intelligence analysts, and behavioral analysis profilers,” said DeBusk in a statement released Thursday.

Donald Wells (Courtesy: WJHL)

Summer’s mother filed for a protective order against her husband in 2020

In October 2020, Candus Bly filed for a protective order against her husband, Donald Wells, stating in court documents that she was “afraid for my children and myself.”

An arrest warrant obtained Tuesday morning by News 2 states a Hawkins County deputy had responded Oct. 14, 2020 to the home where Donald Wells lived with his wife and four children, including Summer, on Ben Hill Road in Rogersville for a report of a domestic assault.

Wells was arrested and booked into the Hawkins County jail on multiple charges, including domestic assault, possession of a handgun while under the influence, and unlawful possession of a weapon.

The Hawkins County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office confirmed Wells pleaded guilty to the charge of possession of a handgun while under the influence but added the domestic assault and unlawful possession of a weapon charges were dropped in April.

Wells told News Channel 11 on Tuesday that he had been in Utah and that he and Bly, “weren’t on the same page” due to lack of communication.

“We worked it out, she’s apologized to me. She went to the district attorney, she even talked to the judge and told him that she made a serious mistake and, you know, that’s the end of it,” Wells said. “She didn’t get hurt and I never hurt nobody, so.”

Another warrant obtained by News 2 states the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol had also responded to the home on Aug. 13, 2001, where the residence was searched, and Wells was found hiding in a storage room. Wells was arrested for a parole violation out of Utah and charged with being a fugitive from justice.

Community members are offering reward money in the search for Summer Wells

Two community members are offering a combined $27,000 for information leading to the discovery of Summer.

David Garrahan of Kingsport is offering $25,000 for information leading to Wells being found.

“It will get some people who have, you know, good thoughts and interests in their community to share whatever tip they might have…if they saw anything, if they heard anything…if they’ve got any suggestions. They may be important.”

Another $2,000 is being offered by Trevor Lee for information leading to Wells being returned home. He has a domestic and child abuse prevention non-profit with a mission to stand up for children.

Coup confirmed, on June 24, that the agency is working to get an account set up. He said they will provide more information on how the public could donate money to the account once available.

Who to contact if you have information on Summer Wells

Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to contact the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office at 423-272-7121 or the TBI at 800-TBI-FIND.

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