HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Professional searchers reported no new leads following a weekend search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells.
Nearly a month after search crews packed up operations in Beech Creek, non-profit group Equusearch Midwest was back in the Beech Creek area.
“It’s very thick, I mean the terrain is very, it’s brutal, it’s unforgiving,” Equusearch Midwest Director David Rader said of the search. “We’re doing everything that we possibly can to bring her home. I would love for her to come walking through that door, I would love for somebody to drop her off if she was abducted.”
With temperatures in the 90’s and overgrown vegetation, News Channel 11 found out professional search crews are having no luck finding the 5-year-old.
“We just look for anything, any brush or any growth that has been disturbed unnaturally. There’s a lot of deer paths, a lot of wildlife that, you know, will go in through so it’s difficult sometimes to tell and distinguish that apart. But most of us are trained that we can distinguish that, and we just go through and a slow pace we kick everything up looking for anything that doesn’t belong. Every search that we do is different than the last that we did. Every terrain every detail is entirely different,” Gary Stafford, volunteer searcher, said.
Stafford said that the non-profit asked the public not to aid in the search in case someone not trained in search and recovery happened to potentially destroy evidence.
“You know we always have eyes going forward. So when we’re, as we’re walking through we’re going at a slow pace, and being very extremely careful to not disturb anything. And if we would come upon something that doesn’t look right, we would holler for a team lead, they would come in and assess the situation and if it’s something pertinent, we would all back out the exact same way we came in to not disturb anything as well,” he explained.
“The pace that we go in the distance that we put between each other searching. We keep, keep it tight, and we go slow enough to where we don’t go over anything, some searches we do or bone searches, and we leave no leaf unturned. So we kick up anything and everything going through that area. So it’s a lot of on-the-job training, and it’s all everybody’s together.”
Rader explained that though the group only utilized the boots-on-the-ground search method, they had other tools at their disposal.
“We have remote control sonar that we can put into a body of water that we can make that we, you know, we can put it in and within 15 minutes no buts in that in that body of water without putting divers in. We have high-tech drones that if we feel that we have an area that really needs to be looked at, you know, we have what’s called infrared, near-infrared, which means that this camera can actually detect if a piece of ground has been disturbed, from the air. So then basically if you get that damage, we can send one or two persons to find out what that anomaly is instead of sending a whole group. So there’s, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of new toys in our toy box that’s on our disposal but this weekend, the only thing that we’re actually using is actually boots on the ground,” he said.
Rader mentioned Saturday that the group searched “virgin territory” that had not been searched after Summer was initially reported missing.
“We knew that, you know they had this circle around the house that they had already, just basically just really just hit it hard. And we felt that at that point in time she’s not in that area. I mean, you know, as time went on, things were going against her as far as if there was no food, no water. This girl would have been in dire straits and to have the amount of people that were there on that search originally not to find her. I can almost guarantee you, she’s not there. Period. Unless she was put back there afterward. Now, is that a possibility? Anything’s on the table. But you know what prompted us to come back is we knew that you know, law enforcement, and these rescue teams, don’t have the resources and they don’t have the money to keep going,” Rader said.
As a non-profit, Equusearch operates on donations and do not have a strict budget to adhere to.
“So we kind of have a little bit more flexibility to where we can come in and actually just keep this. Keep this expanding the circle and so that’s where we come into play,” Rader explained.
If the search crews actually did come upon something they consider evidence, they would call in law enforcement to determine whether it is – in fact – evidence.
But Equusearch members don’t come into contact with law enforcement for any other reason. Rader said searchers relay findings to Incident Commander Tim Coup.
“After I’m finished with what we’re going to do, I’ll give him all of my paperwork of what areas that we’ve covered,” said Rader. “So then that way, he can incorporate it into law enforcement so he’s kind of my liaison. That way you don’t get too many hands in the fire and then you got all this miscommunication, so we have this rapport going back and forth with us.”
While the recent search didn’t turn up any usable leads, Rader said the Equusearch team hasn’t given up and could return to the field.