ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – The old thought in the news business was that everyone has a story. Social media has opened the door to change, and now it seems everyone has a chance to tell a story…any story.
That’s been the case with the search for missing Hawkins Co. five-year-old Summer Wells. YouTube has given a new outlet to crime junkies with an investigative flare.
“We really are appreciative of social media because it gave us a voice, and we didn’t know our voice was going to be as strong as what it was,” said content creator Cam Hillman.
All you have to do is search YouTube for Summer Wells, Hawkins County, or anything related to the missing girl. Click and you can find theories, accusations and even live debates.
It’s all there online. There are attempts at doing good too.
“We don’t want to ever put out anything that’s speculation,” said Alli Hillman.
“We have to stay quiet a lot, and that’s not a popular thing. It’s who’s got the new, the best, the rumor, the gossip, and it really does cause a lot of problems. If you’re not finding something involved with the case, then you are attacking someone that is, and we are just trying to get that to stop,” said Cam, Ali’s husband.
The husband and wife team is a pair of content creators who say they stick to the facts.
“We might not be the first that comes out with the information, but we try to be straightforward and factual,” Cam said. “There’s a lot of drama that comes with YouTube, and there is a lot of rumor mill stuff that happens – and to try to step away from that is hard because, you know – drama sells.”
They are welcomed figures at the Wells family property on Ben Hill Road.
“We were invited in, and they were very welcoming to us,” said Cam.
The Hillmans run the ‘Crackin’ Cases’ channel on YouTube, which they say is “dedicated to looking in and researching cases of missing children, true crime,” and topics of that nature.
“People really latched onto us, and we started our own channel, and it launched and we got to be involved. We never thought it would get this far,” Cam said.
“Never,” said Alli. “To be up here on this property and talking about things we were only seeing from [the media’s] point of view.”
They’ve had complete access to the property, allowing them to cover ground for their viewers and subscribers that their online competitors haven’t.
“We came out here, and we filmed the trails that lead onto and off the property. We covered the dog trail, which is one place that’s been talked about a lot in this case.”
For the average person, cases like this are interesting, but Cam and Alli say this isn’t a hobby to them; it’s all work. They also say it helps to keep Summer’s story out there.
“There’s a lot of good that goes into it. It’s a lot of work. It’s a full-time job,” Cam said. “There’s a lot of negative, which you said we’ll go into, but it’s very stressful.”
Interest in Summer and competition for clicks goes well beyond Northeast Tennessee. Regular posts from other content creators come from as far away as the West Coast and even England.
“I think that as far as viewers go, I think that they really trust what we are doing, and they know that we are local, and so that gives a different perspective especially with other YouTubers because we are local,” said Cam, being from nearby Abingdon, Virginia. “We’re called ‘boots on the ground.'”
“Yeah, we are called ‘boots on the ground’ here,” reiterated Allison.
Their hearts are as close to this case as their zip code.
“This is basically why this case hit close to home for us because we have a little girl that is the same age as Summer,” Cam said. “So it really lit a fire in us to do something in this community.”
YouTube investigators are their own invention. It wasn’t a vocation or an interest even just a few years ago. Technology changes everything, and this change has had bumps in the road. Some though truly try to make YouTube better and more honest.
“There’s a lot of drama happening. There’s a lot of fighting between creators, and that has to stop,” Cam said. “It’s not about us. It’s about these kids. It’s about these people.”
For some, creating content on the platform is a full-time job. People are earning what they can by saying what they feel. Alli is also a full-time nurse and Cam is a part-time mechanic.