Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.
Summer Moon-Utah Wells, only 5 years old, went missing from her rural Tennessee home in Beech Creek on June 15, 2021. Her parents reported her missing to the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office that evening at approximately 6:30 p.m. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) issued an Amber Alert the following morning.
Summer has the lightest, beautiful blonde hair and big blue eyes, weighing only 40 pounds and standing 3 feet tall. She was wearing gray pants, a pink shirt, and possibly barefoot.
Investigators asked residents living near Ben Hills Road to check any trail or surveillance cameras that may contain images of Summer. They also encouraged residents to check their properties, their sheds, buildings, or any other possible place where she may have sought shelter.
Summer disappeared from a community with a population of under 4,000 people, averaging 49 people per square mile. Beech Creek is located in a mountainous area in southwest Tennessee, approximately two hours southwest of Nashville.
Summer’s disappearance was also reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that works throughout the country assisting law enforcement in the search for missing children.
According to Summer’s father, Donald Wells, Summer had been planting flowers with her mother and grandmother right before she disappeared.
“She was planting flowers with her mother and grandmother, and she wanted to go into the house – wanted to go downstairs and play with her toys,” Donald Wells told WSMV. “I went down to the basement, and she was gone, so she went out the basement door, which was unlocked, and we haven’t seen her since.”
Law enforcement teams with FBI
On June 24, 2021, TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart briefed reporters on the status of the investigation.
“We’re still trying to find Summer. It has been one week and two days since she went missing,” Earhart said.
She went on to say TBI agents, working with the FBI and Hawkins County detectives are working round the clock to find Summer, but cannot comment on details of their activity to avoid hindering the investigation or compromising the integrity of the case.
“One of you asked during a previous briefing, what is the standard amount of time it takes for a case like this to be resolved. While every case is different, this case is definitely outside the norm,” Earhart said. “Typically, in an investigation like this one, we have some idea of where the case is headed and what might have happened within a few days. In this situation, despite doing everything in our power and exploring all avenues, the circumstances leading to Summer’s disappearance, remain unclear. I understand that the lack of answers, frustrates you and the public but trust me, no one is more frustrated than we are,” Earhart told reporters.
Earhart went on to say that if any information is developed that leads to finding Summer, that information will be shared immediately with the media and the public.
In closing, a reporter asked Leslie Earhart if she thinks Summer Wells is still alive. “We hope so but honestly we just don’t know,” Earhart responded. “We are holding out hope, doing everything we can. Obviously, typically we would have found a child in this stage of the investigation, but honestly, we just don’t know.
More than 300 leads
Investigators have received more than 300 leads. Dozens of agencies throughout the state of Tennessee and surrounding states have searched nearly five miles of rugged terrain looking for any sign of Summer.
A Knox County team joined the search canvassing miles in the rough landscape looking for anything that could bring Summer home.
“It’s very treacherous and it’s very, the grade of hills we very steep. There are no trails, it’s all thick brush. You don’t know what you’re going to come across, you could be walking and fall in a cavern for all you know,” Justin Faulkner, Assistant Chief at Knox County Rescue told WKRN News.
Searching for a little girl in the wilderness touches the hearts of many of the searchers as they have children of their own.
“I have a young daughter. She’s about one year old. And for me, when we heard about the incident and the fact they needed people, that was my instinct, if that was my daughter, I want every person out there possibly doing it,” said Mohamed Abbas, a Rescue Technician at Knox County Rescue who also joined the search.
Social media distraction
During the press conference on June 24, 2021, Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson spoke and was clearly frustrated.
“I know there is a lot of social media going on out there, a lot of detectives going on, but they're absolutely useless unless these people who are one hundred percent positive call 1-800-TBI-FIND,” Lawson said. “It means nothing. We are monitoring all social media and everything that all that you people put out that you interview, and you would have to work very hard to find someone that we haven’t talked to.”
The social media he may have been referring to may include a Facebook page called Summer Wells Tennessee Missing Updates and Discussions with over 41 thousand members. There, people discuss and speculate on what happened to Summer. Some are purely interested in helping the Wells family find Summer and others are conducting “armchair investigations” for themselves.
Unconfirmed information was posted on the FB page suggesting the day Summer went missing, her mother Candus Wells had been partying at the river with a minor she had provided alcohol to and had Summer with her. The comment went on to say, when Candus returned home, Summer was sleeping in the backseat. Some members of the group commented that Summer’s mother may have forgotten about her, and the child died in the car, and she then disposed of the body. Others claim there have been many calls to the Department of Child and Family Services prior to the child’s disappearance.
Some of the comments in the group are far-reaching and even shocking to those who want to rely on law enforcement conducting their investigation before we assume guilt.
Although we know “the family” is normally where the formal police investigation starts. However, the swell of misinformation about the family, shared by total strangers on a Facebook page, could also adversely impact a critical investigation.
Disappearance of Summer's aunt
Police are not unfamiliar with the Bly-Wells family.
Rose Marie Bly, the aunt of Summer Wells and sister of Candus Bly, was reported missing by her husband in 2009 with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin.
According to the Charley Project, Rose Marie was last seen in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin on August 21, 2009. According to her husband, she was on her way to meet a cousin at a bar about five miles away but never arrived. Rose Marie’s car was found in a parking lot near a post office in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, five days later.
Rose Marie’s husband passed a polygraph, and he is not considered a suspect in her disappearance.
Rose Marie had been in a horseback riding accident a week before her disappearance. She told her mother she was suffering from headaches after the fall. Bly’s mother speculated her daughter became disoriented and wandered away, however, there is no evidence to support that notion.
Though the disappearance of Rose Marie has been determined to not be tied to the disappearance of her niece, the Polk County Sheriff is well aware of Summer’s disappearance.
In fact, the detective on Rose Marie’s case had to try to nip the speculation and negativity generated from Summer Wells’ page from hindering their own investigation. On June 23, 2021, Lead Investigator Andrew Vitalis at Polk County Sheriff’s Office posted on Rose Marie’s Facebook page asking people to please stop making negative comments on her page.
It did not stop the comments.
As days pass, investigators on both cases know the likelihood of finding either of them alive diminishes. It is unknown if Summer was abducted by a stranger, but law enforcement is not ruling it out.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation report in 2009, in 89% of abductions by “non-family” members are killed within 24 hours of disappearing and in 76% of the murders, the child was killed within the first 3 hours.
While so many on social media continue to speculate on the parent’s guilt and circumstances of her disappearance, we must sometimes be reminded that Rose Marie and Summer have family members, siblings, children, and grandparents who are praying for a good outcome and desperate to know anything. In a perfect world, they would be supported by the nation to keep hope for Summer’s safe return.
Anyone with information about Summer Wells is asked to contact the TBI at 1–800-TBI-FIND or the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office at 423–272–7121. Tips can be emailed to TipsToTBI@tn.gov
Anyone with information about Rose Marie Bly is asked to contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 715–485–8300.