HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. — A year ago, the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office said they were looking for a young girl who was last seen on June 15, 2021, walking away from her home on Ben Hill Road. They said she was around 4 feet tall with blonde hair and was wearing a pink shirt with gray shorts at the time.
They are still searching for then-5-year-old Summer Moon-Utah Wells. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an AMBER Alert and spent months scouring the Beech Creek community and beyond for any sign of her.
"There's never been a case in the history of Hawkins County Sheriff's Office that officers worked 365 days and had so many hours spent on an investigation," said Sheriff Ronnie Lawson.
The search spread out into the mountains and thick brush of Hawkins County. Crews from across East Tennessee joined the search, forming teams that marched through the county to try and find Summer Wells.
"The men and women of these agencies have worked tireless hours and hours and hours," Lason said.
She turned 6 years old since her disappearance. The reward for information about her disappearance ballooned to around $74,000 as of March 1, 2022. The Church Hill Rescue Squad previously said the final day to claim that reward would be Wednesday.
The community created memorials for her. As the search continued, some created a prayer garden in honor of Summer Wells, surrounded by balloons and flowers. It was built at a church near Summer's home.
Tips also poured in about Summer Wells. Just a month after she was reported missing, they said they received more than 1,000 tips. However, rumors also spread across social media about her disappearance. Some could have led to tips that did not have any credibility.
"They've had to deal with thousands of tips generated by false information that in some cases, has been intentionally spread across social media platforms," said Leslie Earhart with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
She said some people are using the Summer Wells case for personal gain.
"Some go as far as to solicit donations. This has had a major impact on the investigation and not in a good way," Earhart said.
Her parents also appeared on Dr. Phil in the months following her disappearance, attracting more attention to the search for their daughter. The TBI said they executed several search warrants in the search and spoke with all known members of the Wells family, sometimes more than once.
They also spoke with neighbors, acquaintances and people working in the area when Summer Wells disappeared.
They urged anyone with credible information about Summer Wells' disappearance to reach out. People can call 1-800-TBI-FIND, or 1-800-824-3463, to give information.
On the 1-year anniversary of her disappearance Donald Wells, her father, released a statement. He is currently in prison for an unrelated DUI charge. He shared the last picture he said was ever taken of him with his daughter and also released a handwritten letter from jail.
In it, he said he thought YouTube would be a powerful tool to help find Summer so he started a channel.
"I would be so happy to be a family again," he wrote in the letter.
It ends with The Lord's Prayer, a central Christian prayer.