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The disappearance of Summer Wells: a timeline of events one month after she vanished

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 7/14/2021 Hayley Fowler, The Charlotte Observer

A 5-year-old girl clad in gray pants and a pink shirt, her blond hair cropped short, came in from gardening and went to play with her toys in the basement of her family’s home in rural east Tennessee.

That was the last time anybody saw her.

Summer Wells disappeared on the evening of June 15, sparking a weeks-long manhunt in the rugged, mountainous terrain of Hawkins County. Hundreds of tips called in to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have been dead ends, and some in her family have all but given hope of finding her alive.

“I’ll see her in the resurrection,” Summer’s father Donald Wells told The Kingsport Times-News on Monday.

A timeline of events

5:30 p.m. on June 15, 2021:Summer was planting flowers about 20 feet from her family’s house on Ben Hill Road in the unincorporated community of Beech Creek with her mother and grandmother, her dad told The Times-News in the early days of the investigation.

She reportedly went inside and told her three older brothers she wanted to play with her toys in the basement. But when her mother, Candus Wells, came inside a short time later, Summer was nowhere to be found.

6:30 p.m. on June 15, 2021: Summer was reported missing to the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office.

Midnight on June 16, 2021:The Tennessee State Bureau of Investigation released an endangered child alert for Summer.

Shortly after 11 a.m. on June 16, 2021: TBI changed the endangered child alert to an Amber Alert. The endangered child alert is issued when there is concern for a child’s safety, while Amber Alerts are reserved for “the most serious of missing children cases” where officials believe a child is in “imminent danger.”

4 p.m. on June 16, 2021:Officials with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office and TBI held the first of what would be several news conferences updating the public on search efforts. About 30 tips were called in before the end of the day.

1 p.m. on June 17, 2021:Search teams said “steep and dangerous terrain,” including “dense canopy coverage” and ground cover, were hampering their efforts. Poor cell phone service was also making it difficult for them to communicate.

8:40 p.m. on June 17, 2021: Investigators began asking anyone who lives on or near Ben Hill road to check their trail cameras, surveillance footage and out buildings for any sign of Summer.

June 18, 2021:Summer’s father spoke to media outlets for the first time, saying he was at work when Summer went missing.

“When I got home, I drove to the bottom of the property and I realized that all my neighbors and stuff were combing the woods looking for her, and I realized right then and there that she was not there,” Wells told The Times-News. “I knew right then and there that she was gone — because she would never leave there on her own. Somebody had taken her.”

June 19, 2021: TBI shared photographs of Summer’s house and property where she was last seen.

June 22, 2021:One week after Summer’s disappearance, TBI reported receiving at least 221 tips. Investigators continued to push residents in the area to check their barns and crawl spaces for places a child might hide. Specialized searches in the Beech Creek community carried on.

June 23, 2021:Investigators set up a road block to ask drivers if they noticed anything unusual on the day Summer disappeared.

June 26, 2021:TBI asked for the driver of a Toyota pickup truck to come forward after a witness reported seeing it in the Beech Creek area in the late afternoon or early evening on June 14 or June 15. Officials said the person may have seen something related to Summer’s disappearance.

The truck was described as a “1998-2000 maroon or red Toyota Tacoma, with a full bed ladder rack along with white buckets in the truck bed.”

To date, the driver has not been found.

June 27, 2021: Officials announced they are scaling back search operations.

July 1, 2021: The Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin told WJHL Summer’s disappearance renewed interest in the case of her missing aunt, Rose Marie Bly, who vanished in Polk County in 2009.

July 2, 2021: Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told WJHL they have received no solid leads from the over 750 tips called in.

July 11, 2021: Lawson told The Times-News Summer’s case is “nowhere even close to being cold.”

July 12, 2021: TBI confirmed they’ve received 935 tips regarding Summer’s disappearance. In a recorded video, Lawson told the public “everything is still on the table.”

“We’re still trying to find out what happened to Summer, so everybody is still a person of interest,” he said.

On the same day in an interview with The Times-News, Summer’s father Donald Wells expressed little hope that she was still alive. He also confirmed he, his wife and his mother-in-law all passed lie detector tests in the early days of the investigation.

July 13, 2021:Shelly Smitherman, assistant special agent in charge with TBI, said investigators typically have a credible tip or lead to go off of within a couple of days of a child disappearing.

“That is the frustrating part for law enforcement in this case and for the public,” she said. “We will continue to investigate and to search for Summer. In the public’s eye there may not be as much media attention given to this case, but that does not mean that we stop what we’re doing.”

What to know

Summer has blonde hair and blue eyes. She is about 3 feet tall and weighs 40 pounds. Investigators said she was last seen wearing gray pants, a pink shirt and was possibly bare foot.

Anyone with information about her disappearance is asked to contact the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND or the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office at 423-272-7121. Tips can also be emailed to TipsToTBI@tn.gov.

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