ROGERSVILLE – “I think one or two people know exactly what has happened to her and they need to come forward,” said Dave Rader of the missing Summer Wells.
Rader’s EquuSearch Midwest unit was in Tennessee this past weekend, contributing its expertise and resources to the search for the five-year-old girl reported missing from her Beech Creek home June 15.
“We got a lot accomplished (Saturday),” the EquuSearch Midwest Chapter Director said in an online interview Sunday.
“We didn’t find the objective that we were looking for, which was little Summer. But I’ll tell you what: we gave it everything we could possibly give and we’re still not done,” Rader said.
Speaking with retired New York Police Department Detectives Ron Duty and Bill Cannon on Duty’s Youtube channel, Rader said he will confer with Tim Miller, who founded EquuSearch in 2020 after his own 16-year-old daughter, Laura Miller, was abducted and murdered in Galveston County, Texas in 1984. Her body wasn’t located until 17 months later.
“There still may be some things that we, me and Tim, can put our heads together and figure something out. But this isn’t the last for me to come down to Tennessee to look for this little girl,” said Rader, who called Sunday a “get-away day,” a travel day for the volunteers to return to their respective homes for their respective work weeks.
“I stayed behind just to kind of think about some things and just kind of go over in my mind what could we possibly have missed and is there anything that we missed. There’s a lot of land down here. The real estate is just unbelievable as we’ve touched on before. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.
“You’re trying to do the best that you can with the information that you have. And again, I think one or two people know exactly what has happened to her and they need to come forward,” Rader said.
“It’s a process of elimination. You take the information, you digest it, you think about it, then you execute. Then you execute the search. We didn’t find anything that was pertinent to Summer or else we would have turned it over to law enforcement. We know where she’s not. We’ll keep the bus rolling,” Rader said.
“It was a hard day (Saturday) for everybody. We were riding on such high hopes we were gonna bring this girl home and then when you don’t bring that individual home, it is such a Debbie Downer and tough for everybody. The morale, you can just see, it’s like a balloon letting the air out,” Rader said.
“It’s tough because I always beat myself up because I’m the leader of this and everybody looks at me for the answers, and when I can’t give the answers, it eats at me tremendously. These guys gave me 150 percent and they try to pick me up, but when at the end of the day and you don’t have what you’re looking for, it’s a tough pill to swallow,” Rader said.
The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation continue the investigation into Summer Wells’ disappearance. The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office was already familiar with the girl’s family.
According to a warrant filed in General Sessions Court in Hawkins County on Oct. 15, 2020, Candus Bly called authorities to report a domestic assault by her husband Donald Wells.
In an interview with the Review on Sunday, July 18, Candus described events that led to the Oct. 14 arrest of Donald Wells.
“He went to Utah to visit his dad. Him and my older boy, Josey, went out there. He was working while he was out there so he would have some money,” said Candus, who said she had invited her friend from Kingsport, Ally, Ally’s three children, and Ally’s friend, Jose, to stay at her Ben Hill Road home while Don was in Utah.
Candus said eventually her friend grew angry when Jose said he was only interested in the women as platonic friends.
“Me and Ally had a falling out over the stupid Jose guy she brought up here,” Candus said. “And then she got mad at me because he said he only wants (platonic relationships). Donnie was coming home. All I told her was you and Jose and the kids, y’all need to go back to your house. It’s time for you all to go back home, you know what I’m saying?
“She said, ‘I can’t take him back to my house, my grandmother won’t approve.’ I said, ‘Well, you brought him out here.’
‘Well, I’m not taking (him),’ Candus said she responded. “I said, ‘So, you’re going to leave this man on my doorstep, knowing my husband is going to get mad?’
“She got mad about it and left him stranded out here. Then she wants to say I was all over him, but I’ve got all the photos of her being all over him. Not me.”
According to Deputy Kyle Shively of the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Department, when he arrived at the couple’s home at 110 Ben Hill Road on Oct. 14, Wells had already come and left the property, so Shively began to speak with Bly and two witnesses.
When Shively spoke with Bly and the two witnesses, Summer Well’s grandmother, Candus “Candy” Harer, and the man, Jose Roman. Bly said Wells came home drunk, and when he saw Roman in the house, accused Bly of infidelity, Shively reported.
According to Shively's report, Wells allegedly began to struggle with both Roman and Bly, and she was pushed down, injuring her left knee, then Bly and the other witnesses said Wells began punching himself in the face and then left.
When another deputy warned Shively that Wells’ white GMC Sonoma was coming up the drive, Shively said “family members” expressed fear and said there was a firearm in the truck.
Shively detained Wells in the driveway and said he detected a strong odor of alcohol, and apparently had to pick Wells up from the ground. Wells allegedly admitted to a firearm in the truck. The weapon, a black powder pistol, was soon located. Wells also reportedly admitted to having felony charges in Utah.
Wells was arrested and in April of this year pled guilty to possession of a firearm while under the influence.
Charges of unlawful possession of a weapon and domestic assault were dismissed due to failure to prosecute. Wells was given supervised probation for one year and ordered to perform 96 hours of community service. His weapon was forfeited to the sheriff’s department.
According to records, Bly also filed for an order of protection for herself and four children on Oct. 13, 2020, but later withdrew the petition. Wells was also charged with being a fugitive from justice for an out-of-state parole violation in 2001.
Wells told the Kingsport Times-News he and Candus had reconciled and that the blow-up stemmed from a misunderstanding.
Although Candus states there had been a falling out with Ally that led to the incident, she stated in the July 18 interview with the Review that she and Summer had visited Ally’s Kingsport home on the morning of June 15 to await her mother’s call upon the completion of her medical appointment at Holston Valley Medical Center.
Ally’s 15-year-old son reportedly accompanied Candus and Summer when they left to pick up her mother from the hospital, then numerous other stops, including a trip to Warrior’s Path State Park to go swimming. The boy was reportedly taken back to his home before Candus, Candy and Summer returned to their Hawkins County home. Some three hours later, Summer was reported missing to authorities.
The timeline and events leading up to Summer’s disappearance remain a focus of the investigation.
Much conjecture has occurred in social media regarding the final known images taken of Summer: brief videos of Summer swimming at Warrior’s Path and of her lying against two milk jugs in the back seat of Candy’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, in which Candus reportedly drove the family to Kingsport and home that day.
“When she fell asleep on the way home, it was like, she was tired,” Candus said. “She just got done playing in the water. That wears you out. She was cold. So, I took her wet swimwear off. And the only outfit that I had was her brand-new one we got for her to go to kindergarten. It was a suit, of course, pants and a sweater. I got it probably about a week before. It was still in Mom’s truck. It was the only change of clothes because we did not plan to go swimming that day.
“So, I just figured we’ll change her out and put her in these. That way she’ll be warm. She won’t freeze to death on the way home. She ended up falling asleep against a gallon of milk and they’re all pointing, saying, ‘See? She did something to her daughter. She’s dead in the back seat,’” Candus said of accusations in social media.
“She was asleep! People make up so much bull. Then they’re pointing because she had a couple of pimples right here on her forehead. They’re like, ‘See? Somebody hit her or something right there.’ People say the stupidest (stuff). It just makes me so mad. It makes my blood boil. They’re accusing me of something that I haven’t even done,” Candus said.
“To me, it seemed like it was a set-up. The only possible conclusion I can come to in my brain is after Summer went missing, Ally and that whole gang like totally turned all the way around and started making up lies about me and everything else. They’re going on Youtube podcasts to get paid just to make up lies. Like, why would you do that?” Candus said.
“First, there was a picture going around. There was a person with a fat gut and a plate with a lighter and a spoon sitting on there at the table. They were like, ‘Look, she’s doing drugs’ and they were pointing at me,” Candus said.
“So, I went in my pictures in my gallery and found the real picture and it was Ally sitting behind that plate. She had just gotten done eating fried green tomatoes and she just set her lighter there. It wasn’t nothing like we were doing drugs because we weren’t. I don’t even do drugs,” Candus said.
“I don’t get it. I don’t understand. It’s like they were all acting like they were my friend and then after they found out Summer was gone, they like totally twisted everything around and made up a bunch of lies,” she said.
Don, who wasn’t home when the July 18 interview was conducted, has been active on social media. On Saturday, he lashed out on Facebook at family members who had appeared on various Youtube “true crime” video interviews.
Wells said (unedited): “Well how did my daughters disappearance suddenly turn to all about my step family? Are they so greedy as to forget all about what this is all about? Did trish even try to pay my dad back any of the 20000 she borrowed? No! And never will. Did Jeanie mention to anyone about 12 year old ronny when they first got together? Hell no! You have successfully managed to ruin my name time after time. Make my dad hate me and get me barred from the family for life! You all can have whats left of my dad that’s fine. You cant ruin me any more than u have. I’m sure you all will keep trying though. You can have whatevers left you’ve been bilking money from my dad for years and didn’t want me in the way well ill never even call my dad ever again you can have it all whatevers left.”
Both parents have brought up the red or maroon, 1998-2000 Toyota Tacoma pickup, whose owner law enforcement was seeking to question as a witness.
“We really need help finding this red pickup truck with ladder rack,” Wells posted on Facebook July 8. “Not sure of make maybe Toyota. Not the one pictured but something like it. I just found out that it was parked at the bottom of our driveway around the time of Summer’s disappearance. Please help us locate this truck..it did have buckets in the back.”
Candus mentioned the truck 10 days later in the interview with the Review.
“A $50,000 reward for any information about that red truck or who drove it or whatever, you’d think that person would have dropped like a drop of a hat and jumped on that,” she said.
“They found one truck over on 81 and 36 or something like that and the license plate was removed. So, they ran the VIN and it come back to 101 Ben Hill. There’s not even a 101 Ben Hill down here. So, they wrote that off as pretty much a lost case because they didn’t run into nothing. They didn’t track down nobody or nothing, I guess,” Candus said.
“And there was another truck that they found alongside the road with ladder racks on it and it wasn’t the truck, they said. Half the time they told me it was a Nissan, half the time they told me Toyota. I don’t know what this truck is. Who witnessed the truck? I don’t know that, either. No clue. I keep telling people I wish I knew what happened,” Candus said.
“They ask me, ‘Do you know where your daughter is?’ I’m like, if I knew where she was, she’d be right here with me. I mean, that’s a dumb question. To me, that’s just plain ignorant,” Candus said.
Anyone with credible information about the truck or anything else related to the case is asked to contact the TBI at (800) TBI-FIND or the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office at (423) 272-4848.