Wells’ parents reported her missing the evening of Tuesday, June 15 when she disappeared without a trace from their Hawkins County home in rural Northeast Tennessee. An endangered child alert was issued by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that evening; by the next morning, TBI escalated it to an AMBER alert based on still undisclosed “new information and growing concern.”
Summer’s parents believe she was abducted, but TBI maintains the circumstances surrounding the girl’s disappearance remain unclear and investigators have not ruled out foul play. A massive ground search operation was deployed to find Summer if she had wandered off, but no trace has been found. The ground search efforts through the densely forested and hilly terrain that surrounds the Wells’ home, nearby Beech Creek community and adjoining areas were recently scaled back.
Summer’s story has captured national attention, and rescue teams from several states have responded to assist with the treacherous ground search. The FBI is assisting TBI and the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office with the investigation and search.
Summer Wells’ mother Candus Bly spoke for the first time on camera on Monday, describing the last time she saw Summer and what happened in the hours before. Read on to learn everything known so far about the search for Summer and the investigation into her disappearance.
The night Summer Wells disappeared
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.
Emergency scanner audio from June 15, obtained through Broadcastify, captured the moment when authorities were called to the home.
“The parents have called in advised that the mother had went for a walk, came home and now they can’t find her, they have been yelling for her, she has been gone for about ten minutes now.”
An Endangered Child Alert was issued for her later than night.
On June 25, Nexstar’s WJHL reported they had requested the 911 calls from the night Summer went missing but were told those recordings could not be released until there was a status change in the investigation.
“This incident is currently still an active investigation. I am unable to release the requested information at this time,” Lynn Campbell, Executive Director of the Hawkins County Emergency Communications District, told News Channel 11.
AMBER Alert Issued
- Age: 5
- Sex: Female
- Race: White
- Hair: Blonde Eyes: Blue
- Height: 3′
- Weight: 40 lbs.
- NCIC: M476287498
- Missing From: Rogersville, Tennessee
- Missing Since: June 15, 2021
On the same day, TBI issued updated photos of Summer that the agency said best represented the 5-year-old’s current appearance, revealing a much shorter haircut for the Rogersville girl than seen in the initial AMBER Alert.
The family of Summer Wells
Donald Wells: Summer’s father
Donald Wells first spoke with reporters on June 18. Summer’s father said he was at work late Tuesday afternoon, but his wife, Candus Bly, told him their daughter was planting flowers just before her disappearance.
“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.”
He said he believed his daughter may have been kidnapped.
“Some bad person grabbed her, but we have no idea,” said Wells. “The FBI and the police have covered every single place, everything that anybody can think of, they’ve covered.”
He reiterated that belief in a June 28 interview: “I knew right away that she was abducted.”
Candus Bly: Summer’s mother
Summer Wells’ mother, Candus Bly, spoke about her daughter’s disappearance for the first time on camera in a June 28 interview.
“Me and my mother and her were planting flowers, and we went in after we got done washing our hands, and [Summer] got a piece of candy from grandma,” Bly said. “[Summer] wanted to go back over and see her brothers, and I said, ‘OK,’ and I walked her all the way over to the porch, and I watched her walking into the kitchen where the boys were watching TV.”
Bly said she asked the boys to watch their sister and that she would be right back.
“Within two minutes, I came back, and I asked the boys where their sister was, and they said, ‘She went downstairs, mom, to play with her toys in the play room.”
Summer’s mother recalled yelling downstairs for the 5-year-old a few times but never heard back from her, which Bly said was unusual for her daughter. “I went down there to check, and she was nowhere in sight.”
When asked about the reports of her coming back from a walk, heard from dispatch on the scanner call, Bly said she didn’t go on walks around that area. “I don’t go on walks around here, or runs, because I’m scared of the bears and snakes, and even the coyotes … around here.”
Bly also believes Summer was abducted: “I feel in my heart that somebody has came up here and took her, has lured her away from here.”
She posted a video to her TikTok page of Summer swimming on June 15, the day her daughter was first reported missing. Bly said they, along with a family friend, were swimming for around 20 minutes while waiting to pick up a prescription for her mother.
She added that they then returned home in the afternoon but was not certain how many hours passed from the time they returned home and when Summer disappeared.
“You know, I really can’t tell you all the time details, because time gets away from you when you’re trying to enjoy yourself,” Bly said.
Candus Harer: Summer’s grandmother
Summer’s grandmother, Candus Harer, was there the night the young girl disappeared, according to Bly. Harer stays in a camper on the property. In a written statement released on June 25, Harer commented on the night of Summer’s disappearance.
“Bring my grandbaby home. She is a lovely baby, and we’re so thankful for everyone looking for her. We yelled and looked for her as much as we could. She’s just gone. It’s devastating.”
Josie, Wyatt, and Waylon: Summer’s brothers
Summer’s three brothers (12-year-old Josie, 11-year-old Wyatt, and 9-year-old Waylon) were also home the night of her disappearance, according to their mother.
Her parents spoke about the relationship between the siblings, saying the 5-year-old Summer would give her older brothers a run for their money.
“Summer was the boss of the family,” said Bly. “When they’d get out of line, she’d put them in line.”
Bly said she played with her brothers all the time, especially 9-year-old Waylon. “He misses his sister so much because he played with her all the time,” said Bly. “He was, I think, one of her favorites.”
In an interview with WJHL, David Dotson, a friend of the family, said Summer’s brothers were having a difficult time coping with the negativity from other people online and in person.
“[June 24], I took them to the putt-putt golf course here in Kingsport, just to try to let them have a peaceful day away from the search and rescue teams going on their property and the agents coming up,” Dotson said. “There was someone that made a comment that wasn’t very polite.”
Bly filed for a protective order against Donald Wells in 2020
In October 2020, Bly filed for a protective order against her husband, stating in court documents that she was “afraid for my children and myself.”
An arrest warrant obtained by WKRN states that 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 2021.
Wells spoke with WJHL about the charges and protective order, saying 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.”
Bly’s family is dealing with another disappearance
Candus Bly’s sister, Rose Marie Bly, has been missing since 2009, but investigators say there is no evidence that indicates the two cases are connected.
According to the FBI, Rose Marie was last seen leaving her residence in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, on Aug. 21, 2009. Five days later, her vehicle was found in a tractor-trailer parking lot 30 miles from her home.
Bly said she was between Arkansas and Tennessee at the time of her sister’s disappearance, “I don’t know all of what happened or what did happen. But I hope that they find her too and bring her home safely, too.”
The search for Summer Wells
The search has utilized over 120 agencies from Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina and covered 4.6 square miles, or over 3,000 acres, since it began.
Since June 15, over 1,100 searches have covered the area, logging nearly 14,000 search hours. Crews have searched on the ground, through the air, and in the water with the use of dive teams.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is one of the agencies involved in the search. FBI Public Affairs Officer Darrell DeBusk said the FBI Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Team had been deployed to assist in the search for Summer.
“FBI CARD Teams consist of highly trained and experienced subject-matter experts, including FBI agents, intelligence analysts, and behavioral analysis profilers,” said DeBusk in a June 24 statement.
A physically and mentally exhausting search
During a June 17 press conference, 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.
The extreme conditions from the terrain and heat are making things harder as the search continues, exhausting crews both mentally and physically. Additional resources from the local, state, and federal levels are being used to bring in fresh eyes and rested bodies to the search.
“Everyone now is getting mentally, physically, emotionally, just drained,” said Sheriff Lawson on June 24. “We’re going to rehab and start back again, but we’re not going to stop. We’re gonna find Summer.”
‘Scaling back’ search efforts
In a June 27 release, Coup stated crews are “scaling back search operations.”
Coup said the search efforts would continue on a more specialized team basis as needed and directed from local, state and federal agencies.
In addition, officials are continuously urging people to search for a child hiding on their property. Coup said Wells, “could hide in an area that a legal size piece of paper or folded-up laptop could go.”
The ‘outside the norm’ investigation
TBI: Summer Wells case is ‘definitely outside the norm’
Despite all efforts in the investigation, TBI Public Information Officer, Leslie Earhart, said the circumstances leading to Summer’s disappearance remain unclear.
“While every case is different, this one is definitely outside of the norm,” she said during a June 24 media briefing.
During that same briefing, Earhart said they couldn’t discuss everything in the case. “In order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, we can’t discuss everything we are doing, and have done, to find Summer.”
When asked about lie detector tests during their June 24 briefing, Earhart said it’s “no secret” that the TBI has a polygraph unit but didn’t discuss specifics. “I can tell you that we use that as an investigative tool. In a situation like this, we’re going to use every resource and tool available to us.”
Earhart’s comments came days after Donald Wells said that his wife had passed a lie detector test.
TBI: No evidence currently points to an abduction
While both parents have stated they believe Summer was abducted, TBI has yet to find evidence supporting that theory.
“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 stated on June 21.
As of June 29, the agency said they have received 650 tips in the investigation. Investigators have not ruled out foul play at this time.
Search for ‘potential witness’
A release from the TBI Newsroom states that over the course of the investigation, authorities learned that a Toyota pickup truck was seen near Beech Creek Road and Ben Hill Road on either Monday, June 14, or Tuesday, June 15.
“The pickup is possibly a 1998-2000 maroon or red Toyota Tacoma, with a full bed ladder rack along with white buckets in the truck bed,” the release states.
“It’s really strange that I’ve never seen this truck, and I’ve never heard of it until just recently,” Bly said. “But I wish they would come forward and explain themselves. If you’re not a suspect, at least come forward and say what you’ve seen.”
Rumors and speculation
The TBI has stated on multiple occasions for the public to avoid social media rumors, speculation, and conspiracies, as these further complicate efforts in bringing Summer home.
Earhart said dealing with rumors and speculation is a constant battle. “We find that we’re receiving a lot of tips that is a screenshot from Facebook; it’s an opinion or speculation — that’s not a credible tip, and it just bogs down the system.”
At the June 24 briefing, Sheriff Lawson stressed reaching out to officials with important information, rather than relying on social media, “I know there’s a lot of social media [posts] going on out there — but they are absolutely useless unless these people, that are 100% positive, call 1-800-TBI-FIND, that means nothing.”
There’s now a reward fund for Summer Wells’ case
A reward fund for information leading to the discovery of Summer has been set up. A release from June 28 states that anyone wishing to contribute to the reward fund can do so.
“Once this money is placed in there it will stay there for six months if there are no tips and/or leads that result in the location/recovery of Summer Wells those funds will be donated to the Child Advocacy Center,” stated Coup in the release.
Who to contact if you have information on Summer Wells
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.
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.