HAWKINS COUNTY., Tenn. (WJHL) – Mount Carmel Free Will Baptist Church has served as the hub for law enforcement and rescue crews throughout the search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells. On Wednesday, the church returned to its normal services as the ground search is moved to an “as needed” basis according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
“Although the ground search has scaled back, points of interest have been searched daily since Sunday… that will continue to occur as needed,” said TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart. “The circumstances leading to Summer’s disappearance remain unclear, which is why we continue to explore all possibilities, including foul play.”
After hundreds of hours of searching, looking through miles of tough terrain and calling in specialized crews, the ground search for Wells was scaled back.
“It’s hard but you just have to keep going…try to keep everybody’s spirits up,” said Kingsport Fire Department Deputy Chief Jim Carter.
Those who were on the ground searching for the missing 5-year-old say coming this point is difficult.
Carter wasn’t in the water himself but he assisted divers with the Kingsport Lifesaving Crew in clearing ponds in the search area.
“It was a hard place to dive,” Carter recalled. “There was no visibility, everything was on their hands and knees, just not being able to see where they were going…had to feel around in order to search it.”
He has 35 years of search and rescue experience and says coming to this point without finding Summer is hard to accept.
“You have to use factors involved with the search and just start scaling back as you need to,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Summer’s parents told News Channel 11 that they believed someone took their daughter but it was hard to hear that the search was moving in a different direction.
“Thank you for all your efforts,” said Don Wells, Summer’s father.
“We appreciate everything you guys have done and are still doing,” added her mother, Candus Bly.
“I just wish there was a way to search every single home and every single structure in the United States,” said Wells.
Carter says the experience helps crews learn for searches in the future.
“Each time we go on a search we learn from it,” said Carter. “We record our findings and we keep them for future events and that’s how we keep working. “
The TBI says there will not be any on-camera updates until there is a significant development. Authorities are still looking for the driver of a red Toyota Tacoma with a full bed ladder rack that was in the area around the time Summer went missing. They are continuing to stress that this person could be a witness.
Earhart assured that the AMBER Alert for Summer Wells will remain active until she is found.