CHURCH HILL, Tenn. — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation provided an update on its nearly five-month search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells on Wednesday, saying it is still doing everything in its power to find her.
Investigators said they have searched the Wells' home and surrounding property multiple times, saying they've also collected cell phones and computers belonging to the family to scrub them for evidence.
"No one is more frustrated than us by the lack of answers at this stage. However, we haven't given up, and we won't," the TBI said. "While we do not discuss specifics about evidence gathered in an ongoing investigation, we can tell you that numerous search warrants have been executed, and any potential digital evidence has been collected. This includes social media accounts."
The TBI said it has conducted exhaustive ground, K-9 and aerial searches in the rural area where she disappeared. It also has canvassed neighborhoods to ensure it didn't miss any residential cameras that may have video footage related to her disappearance.
The agency previously has used dive teams to search waterways in the Beech Creek area for any sign of the child.
The TBI said Wednesday it has a blog at this link with frequently asked questions about the search, saying it has noticed another uptick in misinformation being shared about her disappearance online. The TBI and Hawkins County deputies are asking people to only share official information, saying the speculation being shared online hinders their investigation and floods their tip-gathering resources with false leads.
The reward in the Summer Wells case has climbed to more than $58,000, according to the Church Hill Rescue Squad in late October.
Todd Matthews has spent a large portion of his life working to find missing people. He said there's still hope to find the girl, but these search methods are also used to find a body.
"When we're doing ground searches like this, this is the time of the year to possibly find something that was just too green to see earlier," Matthews said.
Summer disappeared on June 15 from her home in the 100 block of Ben Hill Road in Rogersville, Tennessee. No one has been arrested or formally charged in Summer's disappearance.
According to Matthews, these searches are an indication that law enforcement agencies are expanding the possibilities for what happened to the 5-year-old.
"I think law enforcement, they don't want to give up any sooner than they have to. But there is a period of time where we have to be looking at other possibilities with a missing person. You want them back dead or alive. You want to recover your person," Matthews said.
Matthews said while it may look grim, there is always a chance of finding the missing person alive.
"A young man that we thought was deceased called me at age 45," he said. "There's always hope. I don't want people to ever give up hope but realistically, we have to be looking at all the options and if there are remains out there, you want to bring them back to the family."
He said hunters often find remains in the woods this time of year. He encourages hunters to keep an eye out and never assume bones belong to an animal.
On October 30, Hawkins County deputies said they arrested Summer's father, Donald Wells, for driving under the influence. Deputies said they saw him driving into a grassy shoulder while making a left turn around 10:15 p.m. that night, saying they noticed alcohol on his breath and a bottle of alcohol in the passenger seat.
Wells had said he had taken the bottle after an argument with his wife that night. He was booked on a DUI charge and released from jail the following morning.
Summer has blonde hair and blue eyes. She is about three feet tall and weighs 40 pounds.
Anyone with credible information about her disappearance is asked to call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.