NOTE: The Church Hill Rescue Squad notified News Channel 11 of an extension to the reward fund shortly after Don Wells was interviewed Monday.
(WJHL) – The father of missing Hawkins County 5-year-old Summer Wells told News Channel 11 in a one-on-one interview that he is not pleased with the expiration date set on the reward fund to find his daughter.
Wells spoke with News Channel 11 on Monday, Oct. 4, saying that he believes the reward fund’s expiration marks a conflict of interest.
“I don’t think it’s right,” Wells said. “I think it’s a conflict of interest. From what I understand, at the end of December, it goes to the [Church Hill Rescue Squad]. I just don’t feel that that’s right, that we’re just gonna give up on her in a couple more months.”
The Church Hill Rescue Squad set up the fund in late June 2021, saying at the time that it would remain active for six months. If no tips or leads resulted in the return or recovery of Summer Wells, the rescue squad said the funds would be donated to the Child Advocacy Center.
The bulk of the $40,403.81 reward fund comes from two large donations totaling $35,000. Those two checks are kept separate from the rest of the fund and will not be deposited unless the donors choose to do so.
“It makes me feel lost, and I feel bad. I feel bad for Summer,” Wells said. “I don’t know why they set it up like that and like I say, it kind of seems like a conflict of interest to me.”
Wells said he thinks the reward fund should stay active as long as Summer is missing.
“I think it should stay with her for her life, a lot longer than six months.”
Wells told News Channel 11 he hopes extending the deadline for the donations that have been deposited could incentivize someone to find Summer.
“We just don’t feel that it’s right, a lot of people don’t feel that it’s right,” Wells said of the reward fund. “We wish we could change it, do something about it.”
Wells said he and his family have not spoken personally with the Church Hill Rescue Squad, but their private investigators have.
Shortly after speaking with Wells on Monday, News Channel 11 reached out to Church Hill Rescue Squad Captain Tim Coup.
In a written statement, Coup said the CHRS’s Board of Directors has elected to extend the reward fund’s expiration date to June 15, 2022. Upon reaching the fund’s new expiration date, the board will reevaluate the deadline for another six-month extension.
“Church Hill Rescue Squad and its Board of Directors hopes that extending the reward fund will drive people to provide any credible leads and/or tips,” Coup said. “Ultimately, we feel that with 5-year-old Summer Wells missing that people would continue to provide these credible leads and/or tips no matter what since the end goal is to find Summer Wells.”
Coup also stated Wells has not been in contact with him or his team since the night Summer went missing, but CHRS staff have been in contact with private investigators that said they were working for the Wells family.
According to Wells, law enforcement working on Summer’s case have provided the family with “absolutely nothing” in terms of updates.
“Absolutely nothing at all, we’re just finding out that there’s a lot of kids missing,” Wells said. He said the Wells family is still in touch with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and typically speaks with one investigator.
“He tells me they’re still checking on a lot of things and stuff and he says, with all this stuff that’s happening on social media, it’s just bogged them down,” Wells said. “It’s been unbelievable what’s happened, on YouTube and stuff like that and Facebook, and it’s just been downright mean and nasty.”
Wells pleaded with the driver of a red pickup truck that investigators say could have information in the case to come forward. The TBI has stressed the driver is not a suspect but may have information related to Summer’s disappearance.
The TBI first said they were seeking the driver of the pickup truck with a ladder rack and white buckets in the bed on June 26. Wells said he is concerned that alterations could have been made to the truck since then, or the vehicle could be too far away now for anyone familiar with the case to notice it.
“They’ve had plenty of time to change everything, a lot of things, get rid of the truck, change up the appearance of it,” Wells said. “All you have to do is take the ladder rack off and whatever. You know, it don’t take much.”
He said the Beech Creek community as a whole has been disturbed by Summer’s disappearance and have expressed disbelief that anyone from the area would be involved.
“We go around and we talk to people in our neighborhood, and a lot of these people are pretty upset,” Wells said. “They tell us if they knew who it was, they’d turn them in immediately. That’s just something you don’t do in our area because it’s notorious for moonshining and other stuff, activities they like to do. But they told me that this is one thing that they don’t allow in their area, and they’re really upset. A lot of people have told me that they don’t think it’s anyone in our area that would do something like this, because if someone done this, it could be really bad for that person.”
Wells said he and his wife, Candus Bly, have been struggling with peoples’ speculation regarding the case.
“Just hanging in there the best we can,” Wells said. “Me and my wife have been trying to work together. People have been really cruel on YouTube and other sites and everything.”
According to Wells, Bly has had a difficult time balancing the disappearance of her daughter and the comments and rumors of social media.
“She’s doing better. There for a while, it was pretty and touch and go. This stuff’s really tore her up pretty bad. On top of your kid went missing, all these people say ‘you done this’ or ‘you done that’ and on top of all that pain, you’ve got all this other pain added to it.”
Wells said their sons are “safe and doing good,” and that Bly’s mother is staying with her sister and doing fine. Overall, Wells said the strain that Summer’s disappearance has placed on the family has been difficult to manage.
“It’s been horrific, like I say, on top of our daughter being abducted, we turn to social media, which was hoping that that could help us find our daughter, and everybody come up theorizing all kinds of stuff,” Wells said. “It just got really bad. It’s been horrific, really.”
Wells told News Channel 11 that his work has been directly impacted by the case. In some instances, he said people have called his employer and sent texts trying to get him fired.
“Thanks to a lot of good people out there, they’ve helped us turn that around, and my boss never gave up faith in me,” Wells said. “So I’m still here.”
Wells said one positive of the entire ordeal has been to see people defend his family on social media.
“The good thing of it is, is a lot of people have stood up for right, and a lot of people have just helped us, and a lot of people have stood up against a lot of these negative people and helped us in many ways and put a lot of stuff – disproved a lot of stuff and helped us in so many ways.”
He said some of the people to help he and Bly through the ordeal have been YouTubers who have addressed the case.
“I just want to thank the good people that have come out and stood their ground and are good-hearted and have helped us fight,” Wells said. “I just want to thank them, the people that are behind the scenes that helped us, thank you very much.”
Wells confirmed that he and his family have hired private investigators to assist them in finding Summer.
“As far as getting paid right now, we don’t know exactly what we’re gonna do, but they’re there for us,” Wells said. “They’re good people, they’re just wanting to help find Summer and that’s their number one goal, bless their hearts.”
On Sept. 29, Summer Wells was featured on “In Pursuit with John Walsh” in a segment calling for tips regarding her disappearance or location. Wells said he was happy to see the case was getting more national attention.
“I’m happy about that. I’m thankful to John Walsh for doing that. I just hope we can help some of these kids – my daughter and others included. There’s a lot of kids missing in this area, and I wish something could be done about it. I don’t know what our president, if he’s even thinking of doing anything, but hopefully something should be done. There’s something pretty bad going on.”
Wells said he has not spoken with any local or national lawmakers about Summer’s case.
As of Monday, Well said he is still certain that Summer was abducted on June 15, 2021. He first told News Channel 11 on June 18 that he believed she had been taken by someone.
Wells said he is struggling with remaining positive as the search for Summer stretches on.
“Well, I wonder if I’ll ever see her again. I don’t want to lose hope but, yeah,” he said. “I have faith that God can do anything, but at the same time, we live in a very evil world and evil exists. I mean there’s a lot of kids, people hurt every day. There’s people starving to death all over the world.”
“I guess, you know, I guess I am losing hope that I’ll ever see her again. But, yeah, I pray for her all the time and hope… I hope that she comes back.”
Wells told News Channel 11 that if he could say something to Summer, it would be that he loves her and hopes to see her again.
“I love you very much,” Wells said. “I will always love you, you know that. I just hope and pray to see you someday, and I hope you’re okay. Just know that I will always love you with all my heart.”
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