KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Summer Wells has been missing for a month. Her pastor at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Kingsport told News Channel 11 his congregants have faced backlash on social media ever since.
Pastor David Ryder said that several members of his church have faced false accusations on social media for the last month, and he asked for it to stop.
CONTINUING COVERAGE: The Search for Summer Wells
“It’s just, they’re ludicrous, you know, and they’re awful. As a matter of fact, I’m gonna say they’re evil,” Ryder said.
A month into the search for Summer Wells, authorities say they still don’t know where the missing 5-year-old is.
This, according to Ryder, created a vacuum of information, so folks turned to the internet, making accusations and assumptions he said are uncalled for.
“These false accusations aren’t helping anybody,” Ryder said. “Taking videos of our church services and looking for Summer Wells and trying to maybe put together some type of a theory or conspiracy or some type of thought, not based on any evidence. It’s false, and it just hurts people and discourages people.”
Ryder said his congregation is struggling to cope with the disappearance of their 5-year-old church member.
“It’s just heartbreaking for the Sabbath school teachers, the ladies in the church, connected with this free-spirited 5-year-old Summer Wells, it’s just heartbreaking for them,” Ryder said. “They struggled with losing sleep at night. You can say even depression, just almost being sick over what’s happened.”
According to Summer’s Sabbath school teacher Robin Lane, she’s been at the center of social media accusations since her student’s disappearance.
“I’ve been getting the majority, me and, and several other members have been getting the majority of the attacks because we are going on camera and answering questions about it and people just say, they pick through everything you say and the way you say it and even if your voice sounds a little shaky if they’re just getting on camera, sometimes it’s normal for us to be a little nervous sometimes when we’re being asked questions,” she said.
Lane said people on social media do not necessarily realize that they are typing harmful things to strangers.
“People who are messaging those things, they need to remember that that is a real person that they are talking to. It may just look like a little profile picture that you may not even be the person’s face, but there is a face behind that and they’re feeling behind that and they need to be careful what they say,” she said.
The congregants told News Channel 11 they will continue to support the Wells family.
As law enforcement has not identified a suspect, Lane urged the public to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, adding that everybody is innocent until proven guilty.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said that it follows up on each tip regarding Summer’s disappearance but asks the public not to send in tips based on content seen online.
The Vice President for the Missing Children Division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said that the public should follow law enforcement social media accounts rather than depending on word of mouth or social media rumors.
“Our recommendation to the public is to follow law enforcement’s social media accounts and listen to their press releases as they will provide the latest and most accurate case information; this will keep the social media focus on finding the missing child,” said John Bischoff.