Cold Case Explorations

Researching Cold and Unsolved Cases from the US and Beyond

The Summertime Vanishing of Summer Wells

This case has remained unsolved for 2 years, 5 months, and 22 days.

It was a hot summer day when five-year-old Summer Wells vanished from her Rogersville, Tennessee (TN) home. She’d spent most of the day with her mother, grandmother, and a family friend. They’d even gone to a swimming hole to try to find some relief from the relentless Tennessee summer heat.

The day was a good one by most accounts and the exhausted family returned to their Rogersville home in the late afternoon. It would only be a few hours later that Summer was reported missing to police, having vanished from the property. Did Summer just wander off into the dense woods surrounding the home? Did someone take her from the premises? Or was there an accident of some sort that was covered up?

Table of Contents

About Summer Wells

Summer Moon-Utah Wells was born on February 4, 2016 to her parents Donald (Don) Wells and Candus Bly. She has three older brothers who were 12, 9, and 7 at the time of her disappearance.

A picture of Summer from
A picture of Summer from

Summer loves Paw Patrol and jewelry, according to her mother, and playing outside with her older brothers. She also enjoys watersports like swimming and fishing. Described as fun and a bit of a tomboy, she still loves attending church and looks up to professional women, hoping to be like them one day.

Overall, Summer was just a normal five-year-old at the time of her disappearance. There was no indication that she was planning on running off, nor was there any huge incident that day that might’ve caused her to try and run away from home. So what happened to Summer?

The Day of the Disappearance

According to Candus in an interview for the YouTube Channel The Interview Room, she had to take her mother (also named Candus but who goes by Candy) to the hospital for some treatment around 8 AM. She dropped Candy off at the emergency room, then headed with Summer to visit some friends in Kingsport, TN so they wouldn’t have to wait in their car while Candy was getting treatment.

Later, Candy called Candus, saying she was ready to be picked up. A 15-year old boy and family friend asked to go with them, and after clearing it with his mother, Candus took him and Summer along as they went to pick up Candy. They needed to fill a prescription for Candy though which required them to drive across town.

“I went and picked her up, and then we drove all the way across town and dropped her prescription off. They said it’d be about 30 minutes at the most.”

Candus Bly (Source: The Rogersville Review)

First though, the group stopped at a shop for some alcoholic iced teas that Candy wanted and then at The Hippie House, another smoke shop, for some nicotine vapes. They then went through the drive-thru for Walgreens Pharmacy and were told the prescription would take no more than 30 minutes to fill.

The Walgreens was only about a 5 minute drive from Warriors’ Path State Park.
The Walgreens was only about a 5 minute drive from Warriors’ Path State Park.

Since they had to wait 30 minutes for the prescription to be ready anyway, Candus suggested they go to Warriors’ Path State Park nearby and let Summer swim for a while instead of just sitting and waiting in the hot truck.

Warriors’ Path State Park

Candus, her mother, the family friend, and Summer then all headed down to Warriors’ Path State Park. This state park is sizable and has many amenities, along with tons to do for visitors. Activities in the park include camping, swimming, fishing, hiking, pools, tennis courts, boating, horseback riding, and more.

An entrance sign for Warriors’ Path State Park in Kingsport, TN.
An entrance sign for Warriors’ Path State Park in Kingsport, TN.

Summer swam for a while and Summer’s grandmother picked some flowers near the riverbank. Candus even made a TikTok video of Summer swimming and splashing in the waist-deep water.

There were some reports that Summer slipped under the water while swimming at the state park and had to be rescued by the family friend, the 15-year-old boy. However, Candus denies the claims that Summer was ever in trouble in the water.

When the 30 minutes was up, the group headed back to Walgreens to pick up Candy’s prescription. They also stopped at Sonic for slushies, then Price Less (a local grocery store), and lastly dropped the family friend off back at his home. Candy took a video of Summer sleeping on some of the milk jugs on the way home.

A still image from the video that Candy took of Summer sleeping on milk jugs on the way home on June 15, 2021.
A still image from the video that Candy took of Summer sleeping on milk jugs on the way home on June 15, 2021 (The Rogersville Review).

Back Home

Upon arriving back home, Candy wanted to rearrange some of the flowers near her camper. Candus had Summer help with planting the flowers. “Me and my mother and her were planting flowers, and we went in after we got done washing our hands, and she got a piece of candy from grandma,” Candus stated to the News Channel 11 in her first on-camera interview.

After planting flowers, Candus says that she walked Summer back to the kitchen and then instructed the three other children, Summer’s older brothers, to keep an eye on the girl while Candus went to help with Candy’s knee brace. It seems that the three brothers had been left home alone that morning (as Don had supposedly been at work).

And Then She Was Gone…

Summer though, instead of staying with her brothers and watching TV, went down to the basement to play with some toys. It is from there she vanished. Candus stated, “I yelled downstairs for her a couple times, and I didn’t get no answer, which was unusual because usually she always answers me. And so, I went down there to check, and she was nowhere in sight.”

Candus estimated that she’d only been gone “two-to-five minutes” when fixing Candy’s brace. Candy lived on the same property in a camper, so it wasn’t like Candus had to go far to help her mother.

When Candus couldn’t find Summer, she called Don who told her to call 911. Candus continued searching the nearby area, going to neighbors, telling them that Summer was missing, and requesting their aid in finding the girl. The police were called shortly thereafter, around 6:30 PM.

The Search Begins

The mountainous region in and around Rogersville made searching the surrounding terrain very difficult. Authorities searched the areas near the Rogersville home and further beyond, using everything from foot searches to helicopter flights.

The area surrounding the Wells’ home is very rural and heavily forested.
The area surrounding the Wells’ home is very rural and heavily forested.

Investigators also asked surrounding neighbors for any security camera footage they might have from their home security systems. In the past, doorbell camera footage has been a vital source of information for investigators; there are cases where it’s caught suspects in an area near where a crime was committed, leading to arrests.

“On June 20, 2021, search and rescue efforts for missing 5 year old, Summer Wells, continued throughout the day… To date, we estimate approximately 2,400 acres have been searched since Tuesday night. The rugged mountainous terrain continues to cause problems and slow the search operations at times.”

Church Hill Rescue Squad (Source: Facebook)
A photo posted by the Church Hill Rescue Squad regarding the search for Summer Wells.
A photo posted by the Church Hill Rescue Squad regarding the search for Summer Wells.

Searches Continued

In addition to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), authorities from other surrounding states joined in the search for Summer. Searchers were encouraged to look in sheds, crawl spaces, and other potential areas where a young child might hide.

“While every case is different, this one is definitely outside of the norm,” TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart said in a TV interview. She also stated that cases like this usually have a solid direction within a few days, but in this case, they aren’t sure what exactly happened: “In this situation, despite doing everything within our power and exploring all avenues, the circumstances leading to Summer’s disappearance remain unclear.”

Despite all the efforts on foot, from the air, and in checking home security systems, no trace of Summer was found. It was almost like the girl had just vanished into thin air.


A statewide AMBER alert was issued on the morning of June 16, 2021, one day after Summer’s disappearance. It was upgraded from the Endangered Child Alert that was issues on June 15.

The AMBER Alert issued for Summer Wells by the TBI.
The AMBER Alert issued for Summer Wells by the TBI.

Summer’s Brothers Questioned

During the investigation and search, Summer’s brothers were questioned, although it’s not clear what sort of information they provided to authorities.

A Scream Heard?

A neighbor reported hearing a scream shortly before Summer was reported missing. The neighbor was in her nearby cabin with her two children, 19 and 14, when they all heard what they called a “shrill, almost animalistic” scream.

Investigators from the Hawkins Country Sheriff’s Office, TBI, and FBI interviewed the neighbor and the children regarding the scream. In later public interviews though, Sheriff Lawson reiterated that there was still no evidence of an abduction regarding Summer’s disappearance.

A Squatter Camping Nearby

There were some reports of someone trying to camp nearby in the woods near one of the neighbor’s properties. According to Candus during an interview, the police told her they checked out that man and cleared him.

A Red Truck

Investigators at the TBI announced they were on the lookout for a red or maroon Toyota Tacoma truck. It was reported that a truck matching this description was seen in the area of Beech Creek Road on the evening or early morning of either June 14th or 15th. The agency suggested that they wanted to speak to the driver of this truck not as a suspect but as a potential witness. Whether this request for information led to any additional leads is unclear.


Even the FBI’s Child Abduction and Rapid Deployment (CARD) team went to Beech Creek to assist in the search for Summer. The CARD teams are special FBI teams that specialize in crimes against children, and there are five teams located throughout the United States. According to the FBI website, “CARD teams have a nearly 90 percent success rate in identifying and apprehending child abductors.

Despite having the assistance of the FBI CARD team, it was reported that there were still no indications Summer was abducted.

A missing child billboard for Summer Wells.
A missing child billboard for Summer Wells (from Coastal Outdoor Advertising).

Theories on What Happened

There is no shortage of theories for the Summer Wells case, especially with the case being so recent and the fact that Summer still missing. If you’ve followed this case at all, you’ll know that there has been a lot of drama with the family, their participation in interviews, recorded calls to other family members full of lies, and more.

I’m not going to cover every single theory I’ve come across, mostly because a lot of them don’t offer any sources to back up their claims other than random Twitter posts or forum comments. My goal in this article has been sticking to the facts of the case that can be verified in news articles or from direct sources (like family members’ interviews and social media accounts) and not getting too far into the weeds of rumors and YouTube drama.

I’d like to clarify too that the only YouTube sources I’ve included are those where family members were speaking directly to the interviewer, and not those that speculate on what could be going on or might’ve happened. With all that being said, let’s examine some of the theories.

Summer Wandered Off

Children wandering off into the woods isn’t unheard of. In fact, there have been other cases of young children venturing out into forests and being found alive later. There was a 2020 case of a 9-year-old, also from Tennessee, who went off into the forest and was missing for days before being found with no jacket or shoes. He was found under a mile from his home in the Nashville area.

Another recent case is that of a 3-year-old boy from Troy, Montana who went missing in June 2022. He was found alive after being missing for two days in the nearby woodland.

It’s not impossible that Summer decided to wander off into the woods surrounding her home in June 2021. However, it seems less probable when you take into consideration the extensive search efforts that were launched quickly after her disappearance. A five-year-old isn’t going to be able to get far with so many people searching for her and she would have undoubtedly left some clues behind (like footprints).

TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart stated early on in the investigation, “We typically would’ve found a child at this stage in the investigation, so honestly we just don’t know.” That is, if Summer had indeed just wandered off, the TBI would have located her rather quickly.

Don Did Something to Summer

Many people have pointed out the fact that Don Wells has a criminal history, apparently indicating that he had something to do with Summer’s disappearance. According to the Utah Department of Corrections, Don was incarcerated for:

  • third degree felonies for theft, burglary, and forgery
  • second degree felony for theft by receiving stolen property
  • a misdemeanor for revocation/suspension

Additionally, accusations that Don is or was abusive are not entirely unfounded. In October 2020, Candus filed charges against Don for domestic assault. In the order of protection application, Candus wrote, “I am afraid for my children and myself.”

Later, Candus asked for a dismissal of the protection order, although it’s not clear why. While the domestic assault charges against Don were formally dismissed on April 21, 2021, he pleaded guilty to a gun charge.

The hand-written order of protection application, filed by Candus Wells on October 15, 2020.
The hand-written order of protection application, filed by Candus Wells on October 15, 2020 (Times News).

Don has also been accused of inappropriate contact by his younger step-sister, Jeannie Wells. At the time of the alleged abuse, Jeannie was five and Don was twelve. In a recorded phone call, Don blamed Jeannie for initiating the sexual contact — despite the fact that he was seven years older than she was at the time. No court cases have been brought against Don for these allegations.

I’m not bringing up Don’s criminal record to suggest that he’s a bad parent. There are plenty of great parents out that made mistakes, paid their debt to society, and moved on with their lives. However, it concerns me that Don was accused of domestic violence less than a year before Summer’s disappearance. It indicates that there was trouble at home, and that there might’ve been a reason that Summer might’ve tried to leave.

All that being said, it’s important to remember that Don wasn’t home when Summer went missing. There is some conflicting information about whether his alibi was confirmed or not, but if he indeed was at work, it seems impossible that he could have taken Summer directly.

Candus Did Something to Summer

Like Don, Candus also has a criminal history. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and domestic abuse in Wisconsin back in 2003.

Candus also had children from a previous relationship that were allegedly taken from her due to abuse. Candus’s first daughter (also named Candus) posted on Facebook after the disappearance of her half-sister Summer, trying to clear up some questions surrounding the case.

A Facebook comment from Candus Bly’s youngest daughter, also named Candus.
A Facebook comment from Candus Bly’s youngest daughter, also named Candus.

I couldn’t locate any documents or news articles that relate to these specific allegations, but it does seem that Candus had her first two children from a previous marriage taken from her when they were young.

Again, I don’t think that having a criminal record automatically makes you a bad parent. That being said, there is a history of domestic abuse for both parents in Summer’s case, and that makes me more inclined to believe that something bad might’ve happened to Summer that day.

Some people also suggest that in many of the videos we see Candus in, she appears to be under the influence of drugs. She also posted some TikToks in which she appeared overly lethargic while smoking a cigarette (which some say is an indication she was under the influence of something at the time of recording).

Candus Bly and Don Wells are interviewed about their missing daughter, Summer Wells.

It’s possible that, while Candus was distracted with either the other children, her mother, or perhaps a substance, something happened to Summer. However, I’m not convinced that Candus would have purposefully harmed Summer as some others have suggested.

Someone Abducted Summer

An obvious scenario for this case is that someone snuck onto the Wells’ property and took Summer. Investigators didn’t find any credible evidence pointing to the abduction theory — no footprints, tire tracks, nor other clues left behind.

“While we’ve not ruled out an abduction, we simply do not have any evidence at this point to confirm that’s what occurred. For that reason, the ground search for Summer continues. It’s possible that she wandered off and is lost and afraid.”

TBI Spokesperson Earhart (Source: ABC 4 News)

The Wells also had a number of dogs on the property that would’ve started barking if someone came up the driveway — or anywhere else on the property, for that matter. However, both Don and Candus seem to think that someone had to have taken Summer. “I feel in my heart that somebody has came up here and took her… has lured her away from here,” Candus told WJHL during an interview.

Case Updates

There have been a number of case updates in the year and some change since Summer went missing.

July 2021: Summer’s Brothers Placed in State Custody

In July 2021, The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) placed Summer’s brothers in state custody. The reason for this was not released as DCS removals aren’t public record.

Don explained the situation as saying, “Right now it’s not safe at my house.” He talked about all of the people coming in and out of the Rogersville home, presumably law enforcement and other searchers looking for Summer. He also alleged that some self-proclaimed psychics were poking around the property, ostensibly to look for Summer.

October 2021: Don Wells Arrested for DUI

In October 2021, Don Wells was arrested for five charges including driving under the influence, open container, expired registration, improper lane usage, and violation of financial responsibility.

Although some people have suggested this points to Don’s guilt, I think it also could be attributed to the grief of a parent who doesn’t know what happened to their missing child. Driving under the influence is never okay, but I’m not convinced it’s an indicator of guilt or remorse, either.

February 2022: TBI Searches Beech Creek Area Again

On February 28, 2022, the TBI revealed that they were conducting a “small-scale search” in the Beech Creek region. This area, along with many others, was searched extensively when Summer first went missing. No additional updates came from this search.

July 2022: Don Wells’s Letters

Don Wells (who is currently incarcerated due to his October 2021 DUI charges) released a letter addressed “to the person, or persons responsible” for Summer’s disappearance. In a later letter, he seems to indicate that he still thinks someone abducted her:

“My heart aches constantly and then the thought of someone mistreating you puts so much anguish and fear for you that I can barely breath (sic) at times.”

Don Wells (Source: Don Wells Letter)

Not the First Missing Family Member

An interesting but perhaps unrelated note about this case is that Summer Wells is not the first member of her family to go missing. Summer’s aunt, Rose Marie Bly (Candus’s sister) went missing on August 21, 2009 from St. Croix Falls, WI. Her case also remains unsolved.

The missing poster for Summer’s aunt, Rose Marie Bly, who went missing in August 2009.
The missing poster for Summer’s aunt, Rose Marie Bly, who went missing in August 2009.

What Do I Think Happened?

With so many theories and rumors going around, it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s happened in Summer’s case.

Stranger Abduction Unlikely

The idea that a stranger abduction in Summer’s case is very, very far-fetched, in my opinion. The Wells property is in a rural area, surrounded by trees and thick vegetation. The only way someone would have gone to that property is because they knew it was there, and they would have been targeting Summer directly.

The fact that the Wells had a number of dogs on their property also makes a stranger abduction wholly unlikely. These dogs were free-roaming around the Wells property and, by all accounts, would have been barking if they saw a stranger or anyone else on the property who shouldn’t have been there.

Furthermore, the TBI has consistently stated that they have no evidence that Summer was abducted. That being said, it’s possible that someone managed to sneak onto the Wells property and take Summer without getting the attention of the dogs — but unlikely.

An Accident is More Likely

Ultimately, I think it’s more likely that there was some sort of accident that happened after Summer returned from running errands with her mother and grandmother. Even though Candus said that she was only gone for “two to five” minutes to help her mother with her brace, I think it’s possible there was a longer time gap than that.

Did Summer Wander Off?

If Summer had just wandered off in such a short gap of time, then surely searchers would have found her quickly. Additionally, even Candus has stated that Summer would never wander off into the woods because she was afraid of the “snakes and bears” in the forests surrounding the property.

An overhead drone view of the Ben Hill Road home from a video on
An overhead drone view of the Ben Hill Road home from a video on

If there was a longer period of time that Summer had to wander, I still think that the extensive searches would have located her. A five-year-old is not making great time, especially not while barefoot and worried about potential snakes and bears along the way.

The only way that Summer wandered off and made it anywhere far would be because someone else picked her up after she left home. This was a possibility another case I’ve written about:  The Strange Disappearance of “Shelby’s Sweetheart” Asha Degree.

My Conclusion

Again, this is just my personal opinion, but I think something like an accident might’ve happened on the day that Summer went missing. What sort of accident, I can’t say as I don’t have enough information. I also believe that there was a longer period of time than just the “two-to-five minutes” that Candus has talked about. The more time there was between the last time anyone saw Summer and when she was discovered missing, the more things could’ve gone wrong in the meantime.

I sincerely hope that Summer is found soon so that she can be returned to her family members who miss and love her, and that any perpetrators of this disappearance might be brought to justice. A five-year-old doesn’t just vanish with no trace; something had to have happened, and someone out there knows something. It’s time to bring Summer home.

Do You Have Information?

There is a $73,000 reward for information leading to Summer’s return. At the time of her disappearance, Summer was about 3 feet tall and weighed around 40 lbs. She has blonde hair and blue eyes and was last wearing grey pants and a pink shirt, no shoes. Her hair was shaved very short. If you have information, contact the TBI at (800) TBI-FIND.

Cold Case Questions

  • What do you think happened to Summer?
  • Do you think Summer is still alive and out there somewhere?
  • Will Summer ever be found?

Let me know your thoughts down below in the comment section!

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