The Disappearance of Summer Wells

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DISAPPEARANCE:

On the afternoon of June 15, 2021, Summer Wells was helping her mother, Candus Bly, and her maternal grandmother garden at their residence on Ben Hill Road in Beech Creek, Tennessee, approximately 30 miles from the North Carolina border. At some point, the 5-year-old asked to go in and play with her toys in the basement. Candus watched her enter the house.

Candus eventually finished up gardening and went into the residence, calling her daughter’s name. When she got no response, she went down to the basement and found the door unlocked. Concerned, she called Summer’s father, Don Wells, at work in Jonesborough, Tennessee. While he rushed home, Candus called the police and started the search for her daughter.

An Endangered Child Alert was issued at 12:07am on June 16, but was updated 11 hours later to a state-wide AMBER Alert. Local authorities cited their growing concern for Summer’s well-being as the reasoning behind the upgrade.

SEARCH:

The search for Summer started immediately. 60 to 80 people participated in the initial search, including Hawkins County EMA and EMT, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and the Goshen Valley Volunteer Fire Department, among others.. The Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Aviation Unit and Ballad Health’s HEART air service provided aerial support during the effort.

As the search continued into the following days and weeks, search crews found their efforts hampered by the rough terrain, which consists of dense ground and canopy cover, as well as rugged ground. This has meant crews have been tiring much quicker than normal while slowly navigating the difficult search area.

Another issue hurting the search relates to communications. There is virtually no cell service in the area, and the 10-to-15-year-old radios being used by searchers have been causing difficulties. Both AT&T and Verizon have donated cell signal boosters to help negate these issues.

Various resources have been dedicated to the search, including a police dive team, the state’s tactical radio system, and various search and rescue organizations. To date, over 120 agencies from Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Virginia have been involved. These included the TN Task Force 2, numerous K-9 units, BURSAR, the Search and Rescue Tracking Institute, RATSAR, individuals from Great Smokey Mountain National Park, Appalachian Mountain Rescue, Central Carolina SAR, SCSAR, Black Diamond, Hawkins County Rescue, the Church Hill Rescue Squad and Hawkins County 911. Central operations have been set up at a nearby church in Rogersville, Tennessee.

Over 13,800 hours have been logged, with 1,150 crew members searching through not just the brush, but ponds and creeks as well. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s fixed wing aircraft has flown 21.1 hours, while its helicopter has logged 30 hours. A total of 4.6 miles have been combed through, with more scheduled to be scoured.

It’s been revealed that Don Wells has a criminal record, with the latest conviction from April 2021. It relates to an October 2020 domestic assault arrest, where he came home and injured Candus after an argument about alleged infidelity. He was drunk at the time, and Candus and other witnesses recalled him punching himself before leaving the house and driving away. When officers arrived on scene, they found him in his truck, smelling of alcohol and stumbling. They were also told of a pistol in the glove box.

The following day, Candus filed an order of protection against Don, citing fear for herself and her children, but a few days later requested the charges against him be dropped. On April 21, 2021, he plead guilty to possession of a handgun while under the influence. The domestic assault charges and those related to the unlawful possession of a handgun were dismissed.

Don also has a criminal record from his time in Utah. In August 2001, police responded to the Ben Hill Road residence to charge him as a fugitive from justice for violating his parole out of the state. He was found hiding in a storage room.

On June 25, 2021, Candus’ personal TikTok account was shared by local media. It features various videos of Summer, with one uploaded on the day of her disappearance. It’s unclear if the video was filmed that day or on a previous date. Candus has since shared a new video regarding her daughter’s disappearance.

A family friend has shared Summer’s parents and three older brothers are having a difficult time. Her brothers have found it hard to cope with the negativity they’re seeing online and experiencing in-person, and Candus is afraid to leave the house, in case Summer returns.

On June 26, 2021, investigators announced they were looking for a driver spotted in the area during the late afternoon or early evening hours on either June 14 or 15. They were driving a 1998 to 2000 red or maroon Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, with a full bed ladder rack and white buckets in the bed. They are not considered a suspect in the case, with police calling them a “potential witness”.

Local residents have been asked to check sheds, crawl spaces and other potential hiding places, in case Summer has sought shelter somewhere. They’ve also been asked to review footage from any trail cameras.

Police announced on June 27, 2021 that the search was going to be scaled back, due to crew exhaustion. They emphasized it will continue with refreshed individuals, and that they’ll continue to work with specialized teams from the local and regional area.

Two local community members have put together a combined $27,000 reward for information leading to Summer’s return. David Garrahan has offered $25,000, while Trevor Lee has put up $2,000.

The investigation into Summer’s disappearance is currently ongoing. Given its active nature, investigators have not been able to share much in the way of developments, but have stated the case continues to involve local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Numerous individuals living near the Wells’ home have been interviewed, as have those associated with the family, and local surveillance footage has been reviewed. Search warrants have not been issued, as neighbours have consented to having their properties searched.

Summer’s family has been cooperative throughout the course of the investigation. Both Don and Candus have willingly taken polygraph examinations, with Don telling local media that Candus passed hers. It’s currently unclear what his results were.

Currently, investigators are looking to identify everyone who was in the Ben Hill Road area on the afternoon of June 15. They are asking local residents to continue to spread the word about the case, but have asked that speculation and rumours not be shared on social media.

THEORIES:

1) Don Wells currently holds the theory that his daughter was abducted. This is due to his belief that drug users come through the area. He says Summer wouldn’t have willingly left the property and has no prior history of doing so. Investigators have not ruled out a potential abduction in the case, but say they don’t have any evidence to confirm one occurred.

2) Some theorize Summer wandered off and got lost in the brush surrounding her family’s home. Given the dense ground cover and rough terrain, it’s thought she may have walked into the trees and been unable to find her way back. However, her family says it’s uncommon for her to walk into the brush. As well, it’s believed she would have been located during searches if she’d been in the surrounding area.

3) A final theory posited by some is that Summer’s disappearance is related to that of her maternal aunt in 2009. 21-year-old Rose Marie Bly was last seen leaving her residence in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin on the evening of August 21, 2009. She’d told her husband she was going to meet her cousin at a bar in Cushing, just four to five miles away, and would be back before midnight. However, she never made it, and five days later her car was found abandoned in a tractor-trailer parking lot in Gransburg, some 30 miles away. There was no visible damage or signs of foul play, and her keys were missing.

Bly has never been located and her case remains unsolved. Despite having marital problems, her now ex-husband has passed a polygraph test and is not considered a suspect in her disappearance.

According to investigators with the TBI, there is no evidence indicating the two cases are connected.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Summer Utah Moon Wells went missing from Ben Hill Road in Beech Creek, Hawkins County, Tennessee on June 15, 2021. She was five years old, and was last seen wearing grey pants and a pink t-shirt. She may have been barefoot. She stands at 3’0″ and weighs 40 pounds, with short blonde hair and blue eyes.

Currently, the case is classified as an endangered missing child.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office at 423-272-7121 or the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-824-3466.

INFORMATION REGARDING AUNT’S DISAPPEARANCE:

Rose Marie Bly went missing from the 2300 block of River Road in St. Croix Falls, Polk County, Wisconsin on August 21, 2009. She was 21 years old, and was last seen wearing a white tank top, a green V-neck sweater, blue jeans and flip flops. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5’0″ and weighed 110 pounds. She had light brown hair cut into a chin-length bob, and is known to frequently change her hair style and colour. She has brown eyes. Her ears and navel are pierced, and she has two cherries tattooed on the outer side of her right ankle.

Currently, the case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, she would be 33 years old.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Department at 715-485-8362 or 715-485-8300. Tips can also be called into FBI ViCAP at 1-800-634-4097.

Image Credit: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

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