What happened to 5-year-old Summer Wells? What we know one week since she went missing


HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — One week after Summer Wells was first reported missing, law enforcement are still searching for the five-year-old girl.

She was last seen Tuesday, June 15 walking near her home on Ben Hill Road in the Beech Creek community, wearing a pink shirt and gray shorts.

According to her father, Donald Wells, Summer was planting flowers just before her disappearance. He spoke with NewsNation affiliate WJHL about what he remembers that night.

“She was planting flowers with her mother and her grandmother and she wanted to go into the house, so my wife watched her go into the door and she went into the house,” Wells said. “And the boys were on the internet of course, and she wanted to go downstairs and play with her toys. So when her mother [came] in and she says, ‘Summer’ and she went down into the basement and she didn’t answer. So she went down there and she was gone.”

Photos: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

Summer Moon-Utah Wells is 3-feet tall with blonde hair and blue eyes. She was reported to be barefoot and wearing a pink shirt and gray shorts before she went missing.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said a family member reported her missing to the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office around 6:30 p.m. EST that night.

After Summer was reported missing, the TBI issued an Endangered Child Alert for her at 12:07 a.m EST. On Wednesday, June 16, TBI chose to upgrade to a statewide AMBER Alert for Summer at 11:08 a.m. EST because of “new information and growing concern.”

While Summer’s dad thinks “someone snuck up on her and grabbed her,” TBI Public Information Officer, Leslie Earhart, reiterated on Monday that the circumstances leading to her disappearance remain unclear.

“While we’ve not ruled out an abduction, we simply do not have any evidence at this point to confirm that’s what occurred,” Earhart said. “For that reason, the ground search for Summer continues. It’s possible that she wandered off and is lost and afraid.”

As of Tuesday, the agency said they have received over 200 leads in the investigation. Foul play has also not been ruled out at this time.

During a June 17 press conference, two days after Summer was reported missing, Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said crews had faced issues communicating in the field, “We can hardly communicate at all on our radios, and cell phones are out of the question.”

AT&T and Verizon have brought cell signal boosters to help increase reception, but incident commander of ground search Captain Tim Coup said service was “still spotty.”

Another issue crews have had to deal with is the area itself. The rough terrain presented a challenge in the search efforts early on. It’s also why, as Coup explained, investigators had not asked for volunteers to help in the search.

“Due to the extreme terrain, the nature of this, trying to locate her, trained professionals [are] what we need at this time to make sure that these residents don’t become endangered…and expand this issue with having to search for somebody else,” Coup said on June 17.

There have been 72 agencies involved in search efforts from Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. As of Tuesday, crews have covered 4.6 square miles in the search for Summer.

Aircraft units are being used to keep an eye on the area overnight when the ground search effort is paused unless crews are following up on a lead.

“At the evening time, it is too treacherous and too dangerous, unless TBI or the sheriff’s department gets a lead that they need us to go help assist on,” Coup explained. “Too dangerous for us to keep our guys up in these mountains in this treacherous terrain at nighttime. But I want you guys to know, and rest assured, along with the community, that search efforts due to not stop when it gets dark.”

In October 2020, Candus Bly filed for a protective order against her husband, Donald Wells, stating in court documents that she was “afraid for my children and myself.”

An arrest warrant obtained Tuesday morning by NewsNation affiliate WKRN states a Hawkins County deputy had responded Oct. 14, 2020 to the home where Donald Wells lived with his wife and four children, including Summer, on Ben Hill Road in Rogersville for a report of a domestic assault.

Wells was arrested and booked into the Hawkins County jail on multiple charges, including domestic assault, possession of a handgun while under the influence, and unlawful possession of a weapon.

The Hawkins County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office confirmed Wells pleaded guilty to the charge of possession of a handgun while under the influence but added the domestic assault and unlawful possession of a weapon charges were dropped in April.

Wells told WJHL on Tuesday that he had been in Utah and that he and Bly, “weren’t on the same page” due to lack of communication.

“We worked it out, she’s apologized to me. She went to the district attorney, she even talked to the judge and told him that she made a serious mistake and, you know, that’s the end of it,” Wells said. “She didn’t get hurt and I never hurt nobody, so.”

Another warrant obtained by WKRN states the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol had also responded to the home on Aug. 13, 2001, where the residence was searched, and Wells was found hiding in a storage room. Wells was arrested for a parole violation out of Utah and charged with being a fugitive from justice.

Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to contact the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office at 423-272-7121 or the TBI at 800-TBI-FIND.

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