ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL)- It’s been three months since Summer Wells, the daughter of a man with Utah ties, was reported missing from her home on Ben Hill Road in the Beech Creek community of Hawkins County.
“We don’t have any updates to provide other than to say the investigation remains active and ongoing,” said TBI Spokesperson Leslie Earhart in a statement to News Channel 11. “Agents and detectives with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office continue to work daily to determine what happened to Summer Wells. We ask those with credible information to call 1-800-TBI-FIND. We’ve received around 1200 tips in the search for Summer.”
Since the night of June 15, no one has been charged in relation to her disappearance and there are still no answers as to where the little girl could be.
“Summer Wells is missing. She’s 5 years old, four-foot-tall blonde hair, last seen wearing a pink shirt and gray pants,” said Hawkins Co. Sheriff Ronnie Lawson the night she went missing. A massive ground search was launched in the Beech Creek Community after the call came in around 6:30 p.m. and a statewide AMBER Alert was issued the following day.
“Everyone is a person of interest until we find Summer,” Lawson said on June 17 during a press conference.
Authorities said all possibilities were on the table, but Summer’s father told ABC4 affiliate News Channel 11 he believed she was taken.
“Candus was on one side of the house when she got gone, not even 50-60 feet away,” Don Wells, Summer’s father, said on June 18. Wells has ties to Utah. “We know she wouldn’t leave the property. There’s no way she would do that.”
A statewide call-out was requested through the Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads on June 19.
“With the steep and dangerous terrain, we’re also experiencing, very dense canopy coverage including very dense ground cover,” said Capt. Tim Coup, the incident commander of ground search operations, during the June 20 press conference. “[This is] causing search efforts to be very difficult, taking extra time to cover these areas adequately, exhausting teams a lot quicker…in turn, causing longer for these grounds to be covered.”
Press conferences continued until June 24.
“While every case is different, this one is definitely outside of the norm,” said TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart in the final on-camera update. “Typically in an investigation like this one, we have some idea of where the case is headed and what might have happened within a few days.”
On June 26, the TBI asked for help finding the driver of a Toyota pickup 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 14 or Tuesday, June 15. Authorities stressed that the driver is not a suspect but could have seen something.
“Please find it in your heart…have mercy and find a way of letting her go to where we can get her back,” said Wells during an interview with News Channel 11 on June 28. Summer’s parents believe someone took her. During that interview, 13 days after her daughter went missing, Candus Bly spoke on camera for the first time.
“Me and my mother and her were planting flowers, and we went in after we got done washing our hands, and she got a piece of candy from grandma. And she wanted to go back over and see her brothers, and I said, ‘OK,’ and I walked her all the way over to the porch, and I watched her walking into the kitchen where the boys were watching TV,” Bly recalled. “I told the boys, I said, ‘Watch Summer; I’ll be back.’ And within two minutes, I came back, and I asked the boys where their sister was, and they said, ‘She went downstairs, Mom, to play with her toys in the playroom.’ I said, ‘OK.’ And I yelled downstairs for her a couple times, and I didn’t get no answer, which was unusual because usually she always answers me. And so, I went down there to check, and she was nowhere in sight.”
That same day the reward fund was finalized and search operations were officially scaled back.
“That was a decision I knew going in that there was a possibility I was going to have to make not knowing how many days, how many hours we were going to be up there searching for Summer,” said Coup during an interview with News Channel 11 on July 13. “Speaking with command staff, speaking to subject matter experts that were involved from other agencies out of state, getting together every day, putting all these things together to make the decision, I can say made the decision easier but it didn’t.”
Nearly a month later, the non-profit group Equusearch Midwest returned to the Beech Creek area.
“I’m still going to keep the faith, you know, so far we haven’t found her, that’s a good thing,” said David Rader, the director of Equusearch Midwest, on July 25. “As long as I don’t find a body, we still have hope that this little girl is walking amongst us, and we just need to say whoever has her, bring her home, drop her off in a safe place.”
The following Tuesday, July 27, the Church Hill Rescue Squad announced the Sheriff’s office would be taking over search operations. Earlier that same day, after their juvenile court hearing, Summer’s parents told News Channel 11 off-camera their sons had been in the custody of the Department of Child Protective Services since the week before.
“I understand people’s curiosity about where we’re at in the case as far as the investigation, I know people speculate, and I understand that,” Sheriff Lawson said in a video posted to TBI’s Twitter on August 11. “They have to understand our number one goal from day one is to find Summer.”
No one with the TBI or Hawkins County Sheriff’s office was available for an interview three months to the day Summer Wells disappeared.
“The 1998-2000 maroon/red Toyota Tacoma truck that was reported as possibly being seen in the area of Beech Creek Road and Ben Hill on June 14 or 15 has not been located,” Earhart said in an email. Her parents didn’t return calls or respond to messages from News Channel 11 and no trespassing signs have been posted around their home.
Family friends also declined to be interviewed.