Search for Summer Wells: What you need to know

Search for Summer Wells

Summer Wells (Photo: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)

(WJHL) – If you’re coming across this story because you are looking to learn more about Summer Wells after her parents’ appearance on Dr. Phil, then thank you for being interested in the search for the missing Hawkins County 5-year-old that’s been ongoing since her disappearance on June 15.

News Channel 11 is located in the Tri-Cities of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, headquartered in Johnson City. Since Summer was reported missing from her home in the Beech Creek community of Hawkins Co., our crews have been on the ground extensively providing coverage.

My name is Anslee Daniel, and I am the weekend morning anchor and reporter for WJHL. While Summer Wells has impacted and captured the hearts of everyone at our station, I have spent a significant amount of time in Beech Creek reporting on her disappearance.

Because of this, I have compiled a list of the most important stories and why I think you should start there if you are just now learning about this case.

June 15 and the AMBER Alert

Summer was first reported missing from her home on Ben Hill Road in the Beech Creek Community of Hawkins Co. on June 15. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an endangered child alert. She was first reported to be four years old before authorities clarified that she was actually five. Hawkins Co. Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told News Channel 11 she was seen walking away from her home on Ben Hill Road around 7 p.m. The following day, an AMBER Alert was issued, and the first media briefing was held.

Summer’s father’s first interview

Don Wells was reportedly at work when Summer went missing, but he is the one who made the 911 call. He spoke with the media before this day, but this was his first time on camera where he told us he believed his daughter had been abducted.

The magnitude of the search

Media briefings continued for 10 days. A common theme was the amount and types of resources deployed from all over. The incident commander of search operations stressed the rough, deep terrain in the area and how that impacted the hundreds of searchers.

Photos of the Wells’ Home

Ben Hill Road, where Summer’s family lives, was blocked off during the height of the search. A few days after she was reported missing, our cameras were allowed onto the Wells’ family property for the first time.

Don Wells’ 2020 domestic violence arrest

Court documents and police reports obtained by News Channel 11 revealed Wells was arrested on Oct. 14, 2020, and charged with domestic assault, possession of a handgun while under the influence and unlawful possession of a weapon in regards to an incident with Summer’s mother, Candus Bly. Those charges were later dropped.

The red truck

On June 26, the TBI asked for help finding the driver of a truck that was seen in the area around the time she went missing. They said it was a 1998-2000s model red or maroon Toyota with a full bed latter rack and white buckets in the back. They stressed this person was not a suspect and could have seen something. Months later, authorities are still looking for the driver of that truck.

Ground search ‘scales back’

At the end of June, after hundreds of rescuers from multiple agencies across the state and nation scoured the grounds of Beech Creek, the command center for law enforcement and search operations was demobilized. The TBI stressed that the search for Summer wasn’t over. Hundreds of tips and leads had been called in, but none of those panned out and no one has been named a person of interest.

Summer’s mother speaks on camera for the first time

Almost two weeks after Summer was reported missing, her mother, Candus Bly, spoke on camera for the first time in an exclusive interview with News Channel 11. She told us about the night her daughter disappeared.

Summer isn’t the first to go missing

Five years before Summer was even born, her aunt, Rose Marie Bly, was reported missing in Polk County, Wisconsin. Authorities made it clear that the two cases weren’t linked.

The reward fund

A reward fund for information leading to Summer Wells was created in June by the Church Hill Rescue Squad. At that time, the squad planned to donate the funds to the Child Advocacy Center if no tips resulted in her return or recovery after six months. In early October, Don Wells told News Channel 11 that he thought the fund’s expiration marked a conflict of interest. The agency extended the date to June 2022. As of the end of October, the fund tops $58,000.

Child Protective Services gets involved

In late July, Donald Wells and Candus Bly told News Channel 11 that their three older sons were in the custody of the Department of Child Protective Services. Bly didn’t want to say why. In October, a gag order was placed on the case even though most involving juveniles are kept confidential anyways.

Eqqusearch returns to Beech Creek

Almost a month after search operations were packed up, non-profit group Equusearch Midwest was back in the area looking for Summer. The group reported no new leads. The following week, the Church Hill Rescue Squad said it would no longer be the lead agency for orchestrating any additional searches and duties would be passed on to the Sheriff’s office.

Community Impact

Throughout the search and in the months after Summer’s disappearance, the community in Beech Creek and beyond rallied around search crews through donations and opening up churches for use. Vigils and prayer services were held along with a prayer garden. Some even organized weekly prayer circles for her safe return.

Website and YouTube Channel

Don Wells and Candus Bly started an official YouTube Channel almost four months after their daughter was reported missing in hopes of helping in the search. The pair have been outspoken about social media backlash, including their own dealings and appearances with content creators on the platform. The channel is part of the family’s website, FindSummerWells.com. It’s a central place for people to find information like Summer’s description, recent news, a blog and contact information to send tips to the private investigator.

Dr. Phil

Summer’s parents flew to Los Angeles in mid-October to film with Dr. Phil McGraw. Those episodes air on Nov. 11-12. This is not the first time the missing five-year-old’s disappearance hit the national spotlight; her information was featured on ‘In Pursuit with John Walsh’ in September. I have also participated in discussions and appearances about the case with Vinnie Politan Court TV in June and July, as well as NewsNation in November.

Trouble after Hollywood

A few weeks after returning from filming with Dr. Phil, Summer’s father, Don Wells, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. He was also charged with having an open container, violation of financial responsibility among others. The following Monday, he was arrested again during his arraignment on a Violation of Probation charge. He bonded out both times on his own recognizance.

These stories are what I consider to be key points leading up to our in-depth coverage of the Search for Summer in conjunction with her parents’ appearance on Dr. Phil Thursday and Friday. Those stories will post online as they air. We have an entire section of our website- Search for Summer Wells– dedicated to the case.

As I close this, I want to again remind you that at the heart of this coverage, is a five-year-old little girl who hasn’t been seen in months. I assure you, more than anything, we want Summer to be found and found safe. I appreciate you for trusting me and the entire News Channel 11 team as your source of information. We are dedicated to finding answers as to what happened to her.

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