Dive teams deployed in search for missing Tennessee girl, Summer Wells
The disappearance of Summer Wells, the 5-year-old Hawkins County girl at the center of a Tennessee AMBER Alert, has captured the attention of thousands across the region.
ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The disappearance of Summer Wells, the 5-year-old Hawkins County girl at the center of a Tennessee AMBER Alert, has captured the attention of thousands across the region. Below is a timeline of the case. Her mother, Candus Bly, said she believes Summer was abducted.
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Wednesday teams have searched approximately 350 acres over the past two days.
Wednesday marks the second day in the continued search of the rugged terrain area in the Beech Creek area of Hawkins County. TBI officials also shared a dive team with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office assisted in searching a body of water.
A total of fifteen agencies assisted in the search. The tip count remains at around 1,500, according to the TBI.
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Tuesday that Hawkins County deputies, along with officials from several other law enforcement agencies, have returned to the Beech Creek area to search for Summer Wells. TBI representatives confirmed that 128 officers from12 agencies, including two K9 teams, are involved in the search.
The search was a planned move, not something that stemmed from new information, officials said. The teams returned to the area to search in areas that were previously too difficult to access because of high grass and heavy foliage.
The search is planned to continue through Wednesday.
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
According to the Church Hill Rescue Squad, the reward for finding Summer or information leading to finding Summer is now at more than $58,000.
David Rader is with Equusearch, an organization that goes around the country to help find missing people.
While the search continues, Rader warns of shady characters trying to capitalize on sympathy in the midst of tragedy. Whether a scam comes in the form or a ransom note or a fraudulent donation collection, Rader has advice for how to avoid losing money.
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation gave an update into the ongoing search for Summer Wells Wednesday. According to officials, the search is still on.
“No one is more frustrated than us by the lack of answers at this stage. However, we haven’t given up, and we won’t,” officials said. They also said that investigators have executed search warrants and collected digital evidence in the case.
“While we do not discuss specifics about evidence gathered in an ongoing investigation, we can tell you that numerous search warrants have been executed, and any potential digital evidence has been collected. This includes social media accounts,” the update stated.
Sunday, October 31, 2021
The 56-year-old was processed just after 12 a.m. on Sunday and released later that morning. He is facing five charges; driving under the influence, open container, expired registration, improper lane usage, and violation of financial responsibility, according to a Hawkins Co. record-keeping app Mobile Patrol.
Thursday, October 14, 2021
Friday will mark four months since Summer Wells first went missing. Summer’s parents, Don Wells and Candus Bly, have started a YouTube channel dedicated to thanking the community for all the help it has provided in the search for Summer.
The channel has four videos on it, most of which feature Wells and Bly as they talk briefly about the efforts put forth in the search. In one video, Wells appears alone and thanks those who volunteered to search for Summer, and in another both Wells and Bly appear outside thanking those that donated money to purchase billboards spreading word of the search.
Sunday, October 10, 2021
This coming Friday marks four months since Summer Wells first went missing. Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office officials provided an update on the investigation and search for Summer Wells Sunday.
“HCSO persists in following up on tips provided to the TBI, and the assistance of the public in identifying an older model Toyota Tacoma is still needed,” the post read.
Thursday, September 23, 2021
It has been over three months since Summer Wells first went missing. Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation provided an update into the investigation and search for Summer Wells Thursday.
“Bottom line: We haven’t given up, and we won’t,” the post read.
Officials said that misinformation has continued to circulate on social media platforms.
“We want to urge you only to share information from official sources. The misinformation and speculation simply don’t help the case,” an official from the TBI said. “Our team continues to sift through hundreds of tips and it turns out that most of them are rooted in rumors and bad information spread on social media.”
The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Department shared an update on Facebook.
“We want the public to know that the case is not cold and we aren’t giving up,” the post read.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Wednesday marked three months since Summer Wells first went missing. Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation provided an update into the investigation and search for Summer Wells.
According to TBI officials, over 1,200 tips concerning the missing girl have been submitted to authorities, though officials said most of them are the product of rumors and speculation.
Officials are also still on the lookout for the 1998-2000 maroon Toyota Tacoma truck that was possibly spotted in the area near the time Summer went missing. Those with any information on the case are asked to contact 1-800-TBI-FIND.
Monday, September 6, 2021
Summer Wells has now been missing for 84 days and has been at the center of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation AMBER Alert for 83 days.
Here is a recap of the case so far.
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed that they have received just under 1,200 tips to date regarding the search for Summer Wells.
According to the TBI, the case is not cold and it remains active and ongoing.
The reward fund is currently $37,970.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed that they have received just under 1,160 tips to date regarding the search for Summer Wells. However, they said most of the tips have not been based on credible information.
Officials also confirmed that the search is still ongoing, and that Agents with the TBI and Hawkins County Detectives are still working to find the missing 5-year-old.
Summer Wells has been missing since June 15, just over two months. Officials said that the case is not considered a cold case yet, however, since agents and detectives are still searching for the missing girl.
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Officials involved in the ongoing search for Summer Wells told WVLT News Tuesday that while search efforts are not being scaled back any further than they already have been, the process for searching is changing slightly.
Independednt groups looking to come back to Hawkins County to assist in the search will now get approval and schedules from the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office rather than the Church Hill Rescue Squad.
“Once again, this is an active investigation in the efforts to locate Summer Wells and we do not want to hinder or interfere with this investigation,” the update said.
Monday, July 26, 2021
Summer Wells’ three brothers were removed from the Wells’ household by the Department of Child Services, according to a new report.
Donald Wells confirmed that the boys were taken by the DCS to the Kingsport Times News, saying his house “is not safe.” He further clarified to the Times News that trespassers are approaching the house and the family is receiving threats on social media.
WVLT News reached out to Donald Wells twice to confirm the report, but he refused to answer questions regarding where the boys were or if they were taken by the DCS.
Saturday, July 24, 2021
WVLT News spoke with the director of the Midwest EquuSearch chapter Dave Rader about their weekend search for Summer Wells. The team has “covered a lot of area,” Rader said. “Unfortunately not the right spot but back out tomorrow.”
WVLT News is also in the process of reaching out to The Department of Children’s Services to find out more about the role it is playing in the investigation.
Friday, July 23, 2021
The Department of Children’s Services confirmed they are participating in the investigation into the disappearance of 5-year-old Summer Wells. Officials said, due to state confidentiality laws, there is little they can disclose regarding the investigation.
Monday, July 19, 2021
The organization Equusearch Midwest announced Monday that they would be sending a team back to Tennessee to assist in the ongoing search for Summer Wells. The organization announced that crews would be in the Hawkins County area the weekend of July 24, and asked those that see them to refrain from posting about the search.
“As this is an ongoing investigation, if you see any of our teams out and about, please do not convey via social media or other outlets where you may have seen our searches taking place. It is very important for the integrity of the case,” the announcement said.
Thursday, July 15, 2021
The father of Summer Wells raised concerns that he thinks there will not be a good outcome in the case. “Statistically speaking there’s a good chance she’s already dead,” Don Wells told the Kingsport Times News on Monday. “I hate to think that. I love her with all my heart. If nothing else, I’ll see her in the resurrection.”
Wells said he believes Summer was abducted but the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has no evidence to confirm that. The agency is still investigating the circumstances leading to the 5-year-old’s disappearance.
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Officials with law enforcement told WVLT News that the reward money for the ongoing search for Summer Wells saw a substantial increase Tuesday.
A $25,000 check and a $10,000 check were added to the reward total, meaning the total is now at $37,470.00, officials said.
Monday, July 12, 2021
The pastor of the Wells family spoke to WVLT News about the girl’s disappearance for the first time. Pastor David rider said he is struggling because the AMBER Alert case has created a sense of hopelessness for the family.
Church-goers at the Kingsport Seventh-Day Adventist Church are keeping the family in their thoughts, Ryder said.
The investigation is still ongoing at this time.
Saturday, July 10, 2021
TBI officials tell WVLT News that they have received over 900 tips into the Summer Wells case, but none have led to a conclusion.
The investigation remains ongoing at this time.
Thursday, July 8, 2021
The investigation into the disappearance of 5-year-old Summer Wells remains active and ongoing Thursday, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
TBI officials said the agency continues to work alongside the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI to search for answers in the case.
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
The search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells continues Wednesday. Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said they have received just over 860 tips as of Wednesday morning.
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
The search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells entered its third week Tuesday.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced the investigation into the disappearance of Summer Wells, “remains active and ongoing.” Officials said, in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation they are unable to provide specific details.
Anyone with credible information is urged to call 1-800-TBI-FIND.
Friday, July 2, 2021
Crews continue in the second week of the search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells. It’s been 17 days since Summer went missing from her home in Hawkins County.
Officials said there have been a “tremendous amount of hours spend searching the area and investigating her disappearance.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has received more than 750 tips but none have resulted in a solid lead in the case.
“This case is still very active and intense, with everything possible being checked out by Hawkins County Detectives and Agents of the T.B.I.,” Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said. “Our goal is to find Summer.”
Thursday, July 1, 2021
Summer Wells has now been missing from the Beech Creek community in Hawkins County for two weeks and two days.
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said they are not giving up in the search for the missing 5-year-old. The TBI confirmed it has received 730 tips so far, but none have resulted in a solid lead.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Search crews continue to search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells Wednesday.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed the agency has received 715 tips in the search for Summer Wells.
The reward fund for information leading to the location or recovery of the five-year-old has a current total f $250 according to Captain Tim Coup, Church Hill Rescue Squad.
TBI asked anyone with credible information to call 1-800-TBI-FIND. Officials asked people to refrain from reporting speculation or rumors to help them get the most helpful information in the quickest way possible.
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
The mother of the missing 5-year-old Summer Wells spoke out publicly for the first time since the girl’s disappearance.
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced they have received 650 tips in the search for Summer Wells.
“We urge the public to share info from credible sources. Sharing speculation or rumors only makes the process more difficult for law enforcement by increasing the number of non-credible tips,” TBI stated on Twitter.
Monday, June 28, 2021
The search continues Monday for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells. Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said authorities have received more than 560 tips as of Monday afternoon.
The Church Hill Rescue Squad announced a reward fund has been set up for information leading to the discovery of missing 5-year-old Summer Wells.
Sunday, June 27, 2021
Sunday, in a release, the TBI announced it would be scaling back its search efforts in the search for Summer Wells due to the difficult terrain exhausting crews both physically and mentally.
“Search efforts will continue on a more specialized team basis as needed and directed from local, state, and federal agencies. Just because we may not be seen as such a large presence in and throughout the area, rest assured that we have not quit and won’t quit until we find Summer Wells,” the release states.
As of June 27, the TBI said it had utilized 120 agencies across six states, 1,150 searchers on the ground logged more than 13,800 hours and the TBI’s fixed-wing and helicopter logged a combined 21.2 hours of flight in the search for the missing child. The THP helicopter logged 30 hours of flight. Numerous specialized search and rescue groups including the TN Task Force 2, BUSAR, Appalachian Mountain Rescue, Black Diamond, SCSAR, Central Carolina SAR, Great Smokey Mountain National Park, RATSAR, and Search and Rescue Tracking Institute, and numerous K-9 Teams have been represented from these agencies.
All of the crews have searched more than 3,000 acres since Summer was reported missing June 15.
“The rugged mountainous terrain continues to cause problems. This slows search operations down in these areas but rest assured while encountering these conditions, we are still searching with an aggressive approach with extreme attention to detail,” the Church Hill Rescue Squad stated in post on Facebook.
The TBI continues to encourage people to submit any credible tips they may have in the case.
Saturday, June 26, 2021
Saturday, the TBI asked for the public’s assistance in locating a potential witness in the disappearance of Summer Wells. TBI said it received information through a tip that a Toyota truck was seen in the area of Beech Creek Road and Ben Hill Road “in the late afternoon to early evening on either Monday, June 14th, or Tuesday, June 15th.” The truck is described as possibly being “a 1998-2000 maroon or red Toyota Tacoma, with a full bed ladder rack along with white buckets in the truck bed.”
The TBI said it is unable to identify the driver of the truck, so it is asking the public to help. If you are the driver of the truck or know who it may be, you are asked to contact the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.
Friday, June 25, 2021
The community surrounding Hawkins County reacts to the now ten-day search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells.
Officials are still searching for answers Friday in the disappearance of 5-year-old Summer Wells.
Thursday, June 24, 2021
Summer Wells, 5, has been missing for over a week. Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said search teams are continuing to focus on the area around Ben Hill Road.
The TBI held a press conference Thursday at 4 p.m. after saying it would only hold pressers in the case of a big finding in Summer’s case.
TBI spokesperson Leslie Earnhart said in response to the question of how long a case like this should last, “This one is outside the norm” as far as the amount of time it is taking to locate 5-year-old Summer Wells. The sheriff’s office announced more than 106 agencies across six states have joined the search for Summer, covering more than 3,000 acres of land.
Officials continue to ask members of the public to please refrain from trying to join search efforts and leave it to the professionals. Community members are still encouraged to check their individual properties and trail cameras for signs of Summer.
Law enforcement officials said they are physically and mentally tired from the search, but they will “go to the end” to find Summer.
According to TBI, 304 tips have come in, but none have resulted in a significant development in the case. On Thursday, crews began conducting line searches in the Beech Creek area of Hawkins County. TBI officials said the purpose of line searches is to ensure every since of ground has been covered, especially overgrown areas with fields and high grass.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
The search for Summer Wells continues Wednesday.
Investigators conducted a roadblock canvas Tuesday evening, speaking with drivers in the Beech Creek area. Officials questioned drivers to see if they noticed anything out of the ordinary on the day Summer went missing.
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Tuesday marks one week since 5-year-old Summer Wells was reported missing.
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced they have received 221 leads since Summer Wells Went missing. Detectives continue to investigate each lead Tuesday morning.
The community has weighed in on the situation. Natasha Gray works at an antique shop nearby where Summer Wells disappeared.
“When you don’t have a suspect or you don’t have a defined ‘this is what happened,’ ‘there was definitely an abduction,’ or ‘this child definitely wandered off’ I think it really hangs a cloud of suspicion because you’re like could someone in our community be responsible for this?” Gray said.
TBI urged property owners in the Beech Creek area to once again check barns, crawl spaces and other areas a child could hide. The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office announced it will send officers to assist any residents who aren’t able to search those spaces themselves. To request assistance residents are told to call 423-272-7121.
Monday, June 21, 2021
The AMBER Alert for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells stretched into its sixth day Monday.
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Summer Wells is still missing during a Monday afternoon press conference.
TBI officials said they are more concerned than ever about finding the child.
According to TBI, the FBI has joined the search for the missing 5-year-old. Investigators said they have not ruled out an abduction but currently have no evidence to confirm that the child was abducted. They have deployed an Abduction Rapid Deployment Team, officials said.
Sheriff Lawson called for all residents of the Beech Creek Road area to go out as soon as possible and check their entire property, in any place a child could hide.
“We have not stopped,” Sheriff Lawson said. " We’ve been searching 24/7 for six days now.”
Search efforts will continue day and night for the missing child. At this time 77 agencies spanning across multiple states including Ohio, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina to assist in the search.
Search crews have searched 2,400 acres of land since Summer was reported missing.
Incoming severe weather is a concern for search crews, according to officials. Hawkins County officials said the storms will change their approach but not their aggressiveness in searching. Officials said search efforts do not stop when it gets dark, aviation search crews are used to continually map the area after the sun goes down. At night they are using FLIR, which is a thermal imaging technology that detects body heat at night.
Family members told authorities it is not common for the 5-year-old to wander off.
TBI investigators stressed the circumstances leading to Summer’s disappearance. When asked if Summer’s parents had been ruled out as suspects, TBI officials said the situation is still under investigation and all possibilities are being considered.
Authorities said Summer’s parents were upset about the situation and have been cooperative with law enforcement during the investigation.
Investigators said they have questioned many individuals including drivers who were seen in the area at the time of the child’s disappearance, but there is no proof that Summer was abducted.
When asked if Summer Wells’ parents have been ruled out, officials said that the investigation is ongoing and all possibilities are being considered. The parents are upset and cooperating with law enforcement, officials said.
“We are not going to stop until we find Summer,” Sheriff Lawson said.
TBI said many of the tips they have received are opinion and speculation which slow down the process. They stressed that people submit tips with credible information.
Hawkins County officials revealed Summer Wells’ father Donald Wells was arrested on domestic assault charges in 2020. Following the incident, Summer Wells’ mother, Candus Bly filed for an order of protection against Donald Wells. In the now dismissed order of protection, Bly stated, “I am afraid for my children and myself.”
According to the order of protection, Bly said Wells was abusive mentally and physically. Bly later asked for a dismissal of the order of protection. On April 21, 2021, the charges of domestic assault and unlawful possession of a weapon were dismissed.
Hawkins Co. Rescue officials said supply donations for crews assisting in the search have been paused due to “overwhelming support.” Crews will assess supplies at the end of the day Monday to see if they are in need of more donations.
On Monday, TBI released new details in the case. According to investigators, both Summer Wells’ mother and father live together. Her grandmother also resides on the property where the 5-year-old went missing.
Officials said canine teams specializing in air scent, trailing/tracking and cadaver dogs are all being used in the search efforts.
Sunday, June 20, 2021
The TBI continued its search for Summer Wells with help from nearly 70 agencies across the region, including crews from Alabama. The TBI reported it was up to 137 tips in the case by Sunday afternoon.
Saturday, June 19, 2021
The TBI continued its search for Summer but said it would only hold media briefings on the weekend if there was a big find in the case. The TBI was up to 113 tips by Saturday and revealed photos of the home and property where Summer was reported missing from.
Friday, June 18, 2021
The TBI held a media briefing Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Soloman’s Temple Missionary Baptist Church to provide an update on search efforts for Summer Wells. Search crews continued searching the area by land and air while also starting to check surrounding ponds and creeks. The crews reported searching more than 1,000 acres for Summer by the end of the day Friday.
Friday, the TBI began investigating Summer’s father, Don Wells’ claims that the 5-year-old was abducted.
WVLT News spoke to Don Wells Friday. Wells addressed accusations of foul play by members of the community and that the TBI has searched his family’s home as part of the ongoing investigation. He also shared that Summer is not the first family member to go missing, as Summer’s mother- Candus Wells’ sister Rose went missing in 2009 and was never found.
Thursday, June 17, 2021
The TBI and Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office held a media briefing to discuss any findings in Summer’s case at 1 p.m. Thursday at Solomon’s Temple Missionary Baptist Church. The TBI announced more than 19 agencies were called in to assist in the search for the 5-year-old. Unreliable cell service and difficult terrain was an obstacle for crews searching and the TBI asked that civilians leave the search to professionals to ensure the safety of everyone.
Crews said they had searched more than 680 acres by the end of the day Thursday. The TBI asked community members of the Ben Hill Road area to check their surveillance and/or trail cameras for videos or photos of Summer. The agency also asked people to check their properties for signs of the child.
Thursday, Don Wells, the father of the missing child told WVLT CBS affiliate WJHL in a written statement that he believed Summer was kidnapped while playing outside.
“She would never leave our hill. I think that someone snuck up on her and grabbed her. I don’t think she’s in the area because the dog goes down to the road and that’s the end of the trail, but I don’t know that for a fact. The way that she just disappeared, she would never do that,” Wells said in a written statement for CBS Affiliate WJHL.
This was the first time either of the parents spoke to members of the media.
The TBI said it would only be searching the area from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. unless there was a credible tip to lead them to do otherwise.
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Wednesday, June 16, The TBI upgraded the Endangered Child Alert to an AMBER Alert after TBI said new information and growing concern about the well-being of Summer prompted the state-wide alert.
The TBI released new images of Summer to reflect that she now has shorter hair than the original photos depicted.
Wednesday, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office held its first media briefing at 4 p.m. at Solomon’s Temple Missionary Baptist Church located at 7659 Lone Star Road in Kingsport to provide an update on the search for Summer. The TBI revealed it had no suspects in the case and no vehicle description.
Authorities had received more than 30 tips in relation to Summer’s disappearance by the end of the day Wednesday.
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an Endangered Child Alert for missing Summer Moon-Utah Wells. Her family reported last seeing the 5-year-old around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. She was last seen wearing a pink shirt, grey shorts and she was possibly barefoot when she went missing.
Summer is described as being a white female with short blonde hair and blue eyes. She is three feet tall and weighs around 40 pounds.
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