ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – The updated flyers of missing Hawkins County 5-year-old Summer Wells tell us all we need to know — almost 10 months after her disappearance, Summer’s fate remains a mystery.
News Channel 11 has led coverage and access as we’ve taken you to Summer’s front door for conversations with her parents and a community that wants her found.
“Summer Wells is missing. She’s 5 years old, 4-foot-tall, blonde hair — last seen wearing a pink shirt and gray pants,” said Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson on June 15, just a few hours after Summer was reported missing around 6:30 p.m. that night.
That late-night announcement launched a massive ground search at first light the next day.
“With the steep and dangerous terrain, we’re also experiencing very dense canopy coverage, including very dense ground cover causing search efforts to be very difficult,” said Capt. Tim Coup of the Church Hill Rescue Squad who served as the Incident Commander of Search Operations during the extensive weeks-long ground search.
Summer’s father, Don Wells, spoke with News Channel 11 about the disappearance of his daughter, revealing that he believes “some bad person grabbed her.”
Daily media briefings continued for 10 consecutive days.
“While every case is different, this one is definitely outside of the norm,” said Tennessee Bureau of Investigations spokesperson Leslie Earhart on June 24 at the agency’s final press conference. “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.”
Two days later on June 26, the TBI announced they were searching for a late-model red Tacoma truck seen in the area at the time Summer went missing. The agency stressed the driver was not a suspect, but a potential witness.
On June 28, News Channel 11 heard from Summer’s mother for the first time.
Candus Bly’s only daughter had been missing almost two weeks.
“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,” Bly told News Channel 11 in her first on-camera interview. “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. 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.”
Bly told News Channel 11 she believed Summer had been abducted.
Well, whoever has my daughter, I pray they haven’t harmed her and they bring her back to us safe and sound.Candus Bly, mother of missing 5-year-old Summer Wells
The same day Candus spoke on camera, the reward fund was finalized through the Church Hill Rescue Squad. Authorities also closed the active search.
The Church Hill Rescue Squad announced on July 27 that it would no longer be the lead agency orchestrating any search efforts for Summer, announcing the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office as the primary agency.
On July 21, a spokesperson with the Department of Children’s Services confirmed that the department was involved in the Summer Wells investigation.
Amid the continued search, dozens of community members met weekly to pray for Summer’s return and offer support for the family.
On July 29, Bly confirmed with News Channel 11 that her sons had been in the custody of the Department of Child Protective Services since the previous week. Don Wells had also confirmed their older sons were taken by Child Protective Services, but he wouldn’t give the reason.
The reward fund for information leading to Summer’s location stood at $37,970 at the end of July.
At the start of August, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office posted to Facebook stating that no psychics had been used in the search for Summer.
On Aug. 11, Lawson said in a video posted by the TBI that the search for Summer was certainly not over, despite concerns and speculations.
In September, Summer was featured on In Pursuit with John Walsh.
The Summer Wells reward fund also surpassed $40,000.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced that months of searching had yielded no clues as to Summer’s whereabouts.
“No trespassing” signs were posted around the Wells family Beech Creek home.
More than 100 days after his daughter disappeared, Summer’s father, Don Wells, wanted to speak with News Channel 11 on Oct. 4. Wells said he was not pleased with the expiration set for the reward fund.
“I feel bad for Summer,” Wells said. “I don’t know why they set it up like that.”
That same day, the Church Hill Rescue Squad’s reward fund was extended into the following year.
Almost a week later on Oct. 10, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office said they were still taking tips and looking for the red truck.
“Hi, this is Don and Candus Wells, and this is our YouTube Channel,” said Don Wells on a video posted Oct. 12 to their family YouTube channel almost four months after their daughter was reported missing.
The channel was created in conjunction with the family’s website, FindSummerWells.com.
“I hope and pray to God we can find our daughter. We can’t thank you enough,” said Wells on a Youtube video posted Oct. 13. “There’s nothing we can do to thank y’all enough. But just to thank you and praise our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
On Oct. 27, the Church Hill Rescue Squad also announced that the reward fund had surpassed $58,000.
Social media stardom turned into a social embarrassment two weeks later. Don Wells was pulled over on a suspicion of DUI and arrested live on YouTube.
While in court for the DUI charge on Nov. 1, Wells was arrested on a violation of probation charge. He was later released on his own recognizance bond.
On that same day in court, News Channel 11 learned a gag order had been issued for the child protective services case involving the other Wells children.
“I have to stay off the YouTube thing or be very careful about if I do anything on YouTube from now on because I have lost control,” Wells said in an interview on Nov. 9. “I’ve done stupid things and for that, I apologize. I’m just trying to be right, focus on our church and the things that our family, that we so much enjoy together.”
The TBI tweeted on Nov. 10 that the agency had seen an uptick in misinformation surrounding the Summer Wells case, adding that the agency had executed search warrants and collected potential digital evidence.
The agency told the public to stick to the facts — all of which can be found on the TBI’s Summer Wells newsroom webpage.
Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said the department receives calls daily regarding the Summer case.
On Nov. 11 and 12, Summer’s Parents appeared on Dr. Phil. Her mother walked out on one of the episodes.
At the first of December- crews returned to Beech Creek again for a two-day planned search.
“Today, teams will be focusing on overgrown areas that were previously difficult to access due to high grass and heavy foliage,” said TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart. “Several other law enforcement agencies are assisting.”
On Dec. 9, people from that group were named in a trespassing report on the Wells’ property.
In January, police reports surfaced of protesters showing up at a construction site where Don Wells and Candus Bly were working. No arrests were made and no charges were listed.
“It’s scary, scary for sure. I mean, Candus was in tears and she was shaking and all that. She was scared,” Wells told News Channel 11.
The Kingsport Police Department was also told that a YouTuber had filmed a child inside the church that the Wells family attends.
February 4 marked Summer’s 6th birthday.
“We’re coming together in honor of her and just celebrating her and just all coming together and praying for her and having a special prayer, especially this week of her birthday,” said Haley Justine Thompson, the assistant executive director of Awaken Ministries at a community-led prayer vigil in observance on Feb. 1.
A few days later, Summer’s father Don was jailed after pleading guilty to his DUI charges from last year. Since his arrest was a violation of his probation related to a previous possession of a handgun while intoxicated charge, he must serve the remainder of his time of 11 months and 29 days at the Hawkins County Jail.
Law enforcement and searchers combed through thickets in Hawkins County during a planned search for Summer again at the beginning of March.
On the second and final day. Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told News Channel 11 that Summer Wells’ family is “not cooperating right now.”
Her mother, Candus Bly, and Grandmother Candus Harer addressed the comments that same day.
“Mr. Lawson stated that Candus and the whole family lawyered up. I can’t speak for Donnie and I know Candus hasn’t because she told me she hasn’t…and I have not,” Harer said in her first on-camera interview. “If law enforcement wants to talk to me, TBI wants to talk to me, they have my phone number. They know when I leave the state they know when I’m here.”
Nothing came of the search.
The lead investigator for the case spoke on camera for the first time in April, saying they are no closer to finding answers than they were on June 15th.
“We’ve gone through hours and hours of interviews, video footage, electronic data– just trying to find a specific direction to go on in towards…. nothing has narrowed that down,” said Detective John Pruitt with the Hawkins Co. Sheriff’s Office. “So everything, as the sheriff has said, is still on the table.”
That same month, the District Attorney General also spoke out about the case, discussing his role as no one has been charged or arrested in her disappearance.
“It’s a case that has implications for the legal system and the law, but you couldn’t classify it right now,” said Dan Armstrong. “There are no criminal charges that have been filed.”
Even though he stays in touch with law enforcement about where they’re at in the investigation, Armstrong is almost at a standstill in his particular role. If an arrest ever does take place, that’s when he’ll step in.
Despite the thousands of tips since June 15, the search for Summer Wells continues.
The ongoing AMBER Alert lists the following details for Summer:
- Age: 5 years old
- Sex: Female
- Race: White
- Hair: Blond
- Eyes: Blue
- Height: 3′
- Weight: 40 lb.
- Missing from: Rogersville, Tennessee
- Missing since: June 15, 2021
The search for Summer Wells continues. For the latest developments, stay updated on News Channel 11’s Search for Summer tab at WJHL.com.