x
Breaking News
More () »

'Everybody still a person of interest' in weekslong search for 5-year-old Summer Wells

The TBI said an AMBER Alert was issued due to new information and growing concern about the wellbeing of Summer Wells.

HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. — Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story contained video with an incorrect date for Summer's disappearance. For clarification, the TBI said Summer was last seen on June 15.

UPDATE JULY 12: East Tennessee authorities have received some 935 tips in the Summer Wells investigation, and "everything is still on the table" in the search for the Hawkins County 5-year-old.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation posted a brief update Monday on Twitter that included a statement from Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson.

"Everybody's still a person of interest," the sheriff said in the video statement.

Landowners in the Beech Creek area can help law enforcement by checking any trail cameras or security cameras they may have that could possibly show activity by the child.

Anything is possible; physical signs or images could hold the clue that will lead to her disappearance, Lawson said.

"It may not mean anything to the people. It may mean everything to us," he said.

Her family has said they last saw her alive the afternoon of June 15.

She's not been heard from since then. Dozens of searchers scouring thousands of acres haven't found any sign of the child.

UPDATE JULY 9

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has received 870 tips in the search for 5-year-old Summer Wells, as of Thursday.

An AMBER Alert was issued for Summer on June 16.

TBI agents and detectives with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office continue to work alongside the FBI in an effort to determine what happened to Summer.

Residents who live in the Beech Creek Community near Ben Hill Road are urged to contact authorities if they have information.

The TBI is also asking property owners in that area to call 1-800-TBI-FIND if they have surveillance or trail cameras that haven’t yet been reported to or reviewed by authorities.

UPDATE 4 PM FRIDAY

"Summer Wells has now been missing from her Beech Creek Resident for 17 days. There has been a tremendous amount of hours spent searching the area and investigating her disappearance, with well over 750 tips, but none has resulted in a solid lead," Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said on Friday.

He called the case still very active and intense, and said investigators were checking out every possible lead.

"Our goal is to find Summer!" he said.

UPDATE 4 PM THURSDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said they have received 730 tips as they continue searching for 5-year-old Summer Wells, but none have led to any solid leads in her disappearance.

They reminded people that call 1-800-TBI-FIND if they have credible information, instead of speculation or rumors about Wells' disappearance.

UPDATE 5 PM WEDNESDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said they have received 715 tips as they continue searching for 5-year-old Summer Wells.

They reminded people that call 1-800-TBI-FIND if they have credible information, instead of speculation or rumors about Wells' disappearance. 

UPDATE 3 PM TUESDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said investigators have received 650 tips in the search for missing Hawkins County 5-year-old Summer Wells. 

Officials urged people to only share information from credible sources. They said sending in speculation and rumors makes the investigation more difficult for law enforcement as it increases the number of non-credible tips. 

UPDATE 2 PM MONDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said authorities have received more than 560 tips related to their ongoing search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells.

On Sunday, officials said they are scaling back search operations, with continued search efforts being on a more specialized team basis as needed and directed from local, state and federal agencies.

UPDATE 9 PM SUNDAY: According to authorities, search teams have covered just over 4.6 square miles or more than 3,000 acres since the night Summer was reported missing.

"The rugged mountainous terrain continues to cause problems. This slows search operations down in these areas but rest assured, while encountering these conditions, we are still searching with an aggressive approach with extreme attention to detail," Captain Coup assured. "The terrain and conditions have exhausted crews both physically and mentally. We are still utilizing local and regional resources, but have called upon and utilizing resources from middle and west Tennessee along with out-of-state resources to bring a fresh set of eyes and rested bodies."

Officials said they are scaling back search operations, with continued search efforts being on a more specialized team basis as needed and directed from local, state and federal agencies.

"Just because we may not be seen as such a large presence in and throughout the area, rest assured that we have not quit and won’t quit until we find Summer Wells."

UPDATE 5 PM SATURDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Saturday they were hoping to contact a possible witness who was driving a pickup truck in the area of Beech Creek Road and Ben Hill Road in the late afternoon to early evening of June 14 or June 15, as they continue searching for 5-year-old Summer Wells.

They are stressing that the person is not a suspect but could be a potential witness who could have seen or heard something that would help in their search.

They said the pickup is possible a 1998-2000 maroon or red Toyota Tacoma, with a full bed ladder rack and white buckets in the truck bed.

The TBI is asking the driver to contact them at 1-800-TBI-FIND. Officials said they are hoping to confirm some information and ask what they may have seen or heard at the time.

UPDATE 3:30 PM FRIDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said they have receives 394 tips in the search for 5-year-old Summer Wells. None have resulted in a solid lead, according to officials.

UPDATE 4 PM THURSDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said authorities are "frustrated" by the lack of leads but remain dedicated around the clock as the search to find 5-year-old Summer Wells continues in Hawkins County nine days after her disappearance.

TBI public information officer Leslie Earhart said the status of the search and investigation remains essentially the same as Monday after following up with roughly 300 leads and searching thousands of acres for signs of the child. 

She said the case is "outside the norm" compared to other missing children, saying they still do not know where Summer is and said the circumstances behind her disappearance remain unknown.

"We know the public is frustrated and wants answers, but no one is more frustrated than we are," she said. 

Earhart said they remain "hopeful" Wells is still alive. 

"We hope so, but honestly we just don't know," Earhart said. "We would have normally found a child at this stage of the investigation, but honestly we just don't know."

Hawkins County authorities are still hopeful someone out there has a clue about Summer's whereabouts. They continue to follow up on all tips, canvas people in Upper Beech Creek and the surrounding area, review surveillance footage, and are monitoring social media channels for any clues.

Beech Creek property owners are still being urged to check barns, crawl spaces and other places where a child could hide for Summer.

If they can't search their property themselves, the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office will send a deputy to the scene to help.

Over the past two days, the Knoxville Police Department's Search and Rescue personnel have been deployed to Hawkins County to assist in the search for Summer.  

You can call 423-272-7121 for assistance, or submit tips to 1-800-TBI-FIND.

UPDATE 1 PM WEDNESDAY: "Specialized" search teams will go back over previously checked areas of a Hawkins County neighborhood to comb every bit of ground that could yield clues to the whereabouts of 5-year-old Summer Wells, authorities said Tuesday.

The child, the youngest of four, last was seen June 15 at her home in the Beech Creek area, and her parents reported her missing about 6:30 p.m. that night.

Capt. Tim Coup of the Church Hill Rescue Squad said in a video tweeted Tuesday afternoon by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that targeted teams such as K-9 or "man-tracking" groups would return to the rolling, rough terrain once the masses of searchers and other personnel have cleared out.

Teams have been working in the area, walking through acres and acres of often wooded land, since last week. Some 4.6 square miles has been canvassed, according to the TBI.

"We will have people in the Beech Creek community from one end to the other working tirelessly day in and day out. We'll be able to keep fresh crews coming in and still continue to search until we find Summer Wells," Coup said in the TBI posting.

The TBI said investigators also conducted roadblock canvases, speaking with drivers who travel through the Beech Creek area often to see if they noticed anything out of the ordinary the day Summer disappeared.

According to the TBI, Beech Creek property owners are being urged to check barns, crawl spaces and other places where a child could hide.

If they can't search their property themselves, the Hawking County Sheriff's Office will send a deputy to the scene to help.

You can call 423-272-7121 for assistance.

UPDATE 4 P.M. MONDAY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Hawkins County authorities continue to ask locals to help in the search for 5-year-old Summer Wells nearly a week after she was reported missing.

Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson urged property owners, particularly in the upper Beech Creek community, to sweep their entire property as soon as possible for any signs of the girl -- including any outbuildings, barns or spots where a child could hide.

"It's easier for you to check your own property than to us to send officers out there," Lawson said. "We desperately need help from our own community in searching their property." 

So far, the TBI said it has not uncovered any credible evidence to suggest why Summer disappeared, saying they can not rule out an abduction but said it's possible she wandered off and is still lost and afraid.

Nearly 70 agencies from across the United States are assisting in the search for Summer, including the FBI's Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team. Various teams are helping search by land and air, including K-9 and aerial units equipped with infrared cameras. 

"We will not quit until we find Summer Wells," Capt. Tim Coup with the Church Hill Rescue Squad said."  "We will continue to search day and night. To date, 24,000 acres have been searched since Tuesday night when she was reported missing."

Authorities said the rugged terrain has impeded their search efforts, and potential storms could impact Monday night's efforts to find Summer.

"I keep coming back, personally, because I have a 4-year-old daughter. In my mind, I can't stop thinking about, 'What if it was her.' I would want people coming back," Coty Reece with the Church Hill Rescue Squad said.

The TBI said it has reviewed surveillance footage sent in from locals, saying it is following up on any potential leads it receives.

UPDATE 7:30 PM SUNDAY: 

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said nearly seventy agencies from across Tennessee and several other states have joined the ongoing search for Summer Wells.

As of Sunday afternoon, the TBI said officials have received 137 tips related to the search. 

5-year-old Wells was last seen Tuesday outside of her residence wearing grey pants, a pink shirt and was possibly barefoot.

UPDATE 3 PM SATURDAY

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released new photos of the property from which Summer Wells went missing.

Wells was last seen Tuesday outside of her residence wearing grey pants, a pink shirt and was possibly barefoot.

"Every detail - no matter how insignificant you think it may be - is important," officials said. "Please help us bring her home!"

Hawkins County Emergency Communications also called for rescue squads across Tennessee to help search for her. They said they made the request through the Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads for Sunday, June 20.

Credit: TBI

UPDATE 2 PM SATURDAY

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation tweeted that as of Saturday afternoon, they have received 113 tips. 

They are asking the public to continue sharing her photo and information. 

Hawkins County Emergency Communications said on Facebook that a statewide call-out has been requested through the Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads.

UPDATE 3 PM FRIDAY: 

Authorities hope to have covered a total of some 1,000 acres by the end of Friday as they scour a Hawkins County neighborhood for signs of 5-year-old Summer Wells, missing since Tuesday.

"We have a lot of people praying, a lot of people with boots on the ground," Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told reporters Friday afternoon in a briefing.

More than 100 trained ground crews were searching the rough terrain near Summer's home off Ben Hill Road, from which she last was seen Tuesday, said Capt. Tim Coup of the Church Hill Rescue Squad.

Her parents reported that their youngest of four children was missing about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Credit: WBIR
Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson

Since then teams of ground and air crews have descended on the hilly, rugged region, deploying an array of resources to try to find the girl.

TBI spokeswoman Leslie Earthart said authorities weren't ready to say yet that she could have been abducted. If law enforcement determines that, the public will be notified promptly, she said.

Coup said dive teams also were now being deployed. He said there are ponds to be checked as well as creeks and streams that emerge from area mountains near where Summer last was seen.

Along with the TBI, the FBI also is lending its help, Lawson said.

Some 41 agencies are now involved in trying to find Summer, Coup said.

On Friday afternoon about 688 acres had been covered; searchers intended to finish off another 300 or so by day's end.

Credit: TBI
Balloons and flowers have been placed in this prayer garden in honor of 5-year-old Summer Wells. The garden is located at a church near Summer’s home, the TBI says.

Earhart said authorities welcome credible, first-person tips but she cautioned investigators aren't interested in social media opinions and speculations.

Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-TBI-FIND.

Lawson said all searches conducted by authorities have been done with consent. No court-approved search warrants have been required, he said.

"Everybody in the community is wanting to find Summer," Lawson said.

UPDATE 10 PM THURSDAY

Despite extensive ground and air searches and the help of some 19 agencies from around Tennessee, authorities were no closer Thursday afternoon to figuring out where a 5-year-old Hawkins County girl might be.

"We had hoped to have good news to share with you by now," TBI spokeswoman Leslie Earhart said during a 1 p.m. Thursday briefing from the scene. "Unfortunately, we do not."

Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said searches for Summer Wells continue, despite radio communications challenges, and all options for what happened to the blonde-headed child are being considered.

"Everything’s on the table. We're looking at everything," Lawson said.

Summer disappeared Tuesday outside her home in the rolling, heavily wooded terrain off Ben Hill Road. She was thought to be wearing gray pants, a pink shirt and was possibly barefoot.

She is the youngest of four children, Lawson said.

Helicopters and fixed-wing craft have been part of the search.

On the ground, crews of 80 to 100 professionally trained people have conducted a search a mile out from the child's home, said Capt. Tim Coup of the Church Hill Rescue Squad.

Officials said they searched more than 680 acres and are continuing to urge residents who live near Ben Hil Road to check their trail or surveillance cameras for video or photos of Wells.

The terrain is steep and dangerous, he said. TBI officials released photos of the landscape in the area on Thursday, illustrating the difficulty crews can face searching for Wells.

"We're also experiencing very dense canopy cover and very dense ground cover," Coup said.

The going is rough, and that's created greater physical strain on the searchers, he said.

Earhart said authorities right now are relying on professional search teams.

From the public, she said, the TBI and Hawkins County Sheriff's Office personnel continue to ask for any photos they may have of Summer as well as any tips from "credible sources."

Coup said some may have wondered why neighbors didn't see more of Summer before she disappeared.

Homes in the area are spread out, sometimes from hilltop to hilltop. Housing is not densely concentrated, he said.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has now issued a statewide AMBER Alert for a missing 5-year-old-girl in Hawkins County. 

The TBI said the AMBER Alert was issued due to new information and growing concern about the well-being of Summer Moon-Utah Wells.

Wells was last seen Tuesday outside of her residence wearing grey pants, a pink shirt and was possibly barefoot.

On Wednesday at 12:56 p.m., TBI shared new pictures of Summer Wells. According to TBI, Wells may now have shorter hair than that pictured in earlier alerts.  

And later in the day, they held a press conference about the search. You can watch it here:

Spanish Version: TBI emite Alerta AMBER para Summer Wells, niña de 5 años desaparecida en Condado de Hawkins

If you have any information, call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND or the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office at 423-272-7121.

Families and homeowners are encouraged to check sheds, crawlspace, and outbuildings for Wells. Officials said she could be hiding out in them. They also encouraged people to check trail cameras and security cameras in case they may have caught footage of her.

TBI said the circumstances of Summer’s disappearance remain unclear.

Previous:

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an endangered child alert for a missing 5-year-old girl in Hawkins County early Wednesday morning.

Summer Wells was reported missing Tuesday night. If you have any information, call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND or the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office at 423-272-7121.

TBI said they updated their poster to reflect the correct age for Wells, which is 5-years-old instead of 4-years-old as previously reported.

Original Story

The Hawkins County Sheriff's Office said crews were searching for a missing 5-year-old girl Tuesday night.

They said emergency crews were searching the upper part of the Beech Creek Community for Summer Wells, 5 years old. They said she is around 4' tall with blonde hair and was last seen wearing a pink shirt with gray shorts.

She was last seen walking away from her home on Ben Hill Road, off Beech Creek Road, at around 7 p.m.

Police are asking people to avoid the area if possible. They also said anyone who may have seen Wells should call 911.

A command post was established by the Hawking County E-911 and the Hawkins County Rescue Squad, according to a release from officials.

Emergency crews and resources from Church Hill Rescue Squad, Hawkins County County Rescue, Hawkins County EMA, Hawkins County EMS, Hawkins County E-911, Hawkins County Sheriffs Office, Goshen Valley Volunteer Fire Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and Heart Air Rescue are also looking for her.

Additional information about the search was not immediately available, and neither was a picture of Wells. This story will be updated when more information is available.

Missing 4 Year Old Female- Beech Creek Community Currently Emergency Crews are searching in the upper part of the...

Posted by Hawkins County Rescue Squad on Tuesday, June 15, 2021