ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL)- The pressure has been immense on the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office to figure out what happened to Summer Wells, who was reported missing back in June 2021.
“It was a lot to shoulder. It’s a lot to burden. We have a missing child that we haven’t found yet,” said Detective John Pruitt with the Hawkins Co. Sheriff’s Office. Pruitt led the investigation into Summer’s disappearance.
Almost 10 months in and so much heartache, and investigators aren’t immune from hurt. The question of what happened to Summer still has no answer.
“There haven’t been very many cases like this. I have never worked — I have never worked a missing child case with all these different entities and agencies involved,” he said.
His days are devoted to finding her.
“My day- I check the tipline and voicemail when I first get here. I do phone calls and follow-ups on any credible leads we’ve got,” Pruitt said. “I follow up on anything that I didn’t get to a good conclusion the day before, then I go into my normal caseload of any new cases I’ve got- follow-ups on them.”
Investigators have received nearly 2,000 tips.
“It’s sporadic. One day you might get five leads, the next couple of days you might not get anything, but it’s been an active investigation, I’ve been devoted to since it first occurred,” he said. “I will follow up on everything I can to try and bring closure for this.”
The night she went missing, authorities said she walked away from her house. The following day, an AMBER Alert was issued.
“The wandering away or sneaking off to go play or whatever she may have done – that is a viable option,” he said. “People are probably tired of hearing this: all possibilities are on the table. We are not completely eliminating the abduction idea, but there is nothing to lead us to believe that we need to focus on that alone.”
In the height of the search, those on the ground combed through miles of tough, rugged terrain, leaving many to wonder how there was no trace of Summer.
“She was like 3 foot and 40 pounds, she’s lower to the ground, smaller body, a lot more flexible,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt works alongside the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Along with the ground search, those investigators have pored over data.
“Surveillance videos, GPS locations, cell phone tracking, cell phone data, electronic data… anything that we can think of to get our hands on,” he said. “We have gone through reams and reams of data. We have collected statements. We’ve chased down every credible lead that’s been given to us, and we are still not much further along than when we started.”
Self-proclaimed online investigators and social sleuths have turned this case into a mess of ideas and tips from everywhere across the U.S. and overseas, Pruitt said.
“The deficit, there are the people that get on the rumor mill of social media or the people that think they have a special connection to the spirit world or the specific deities,” said Pruitt. “None of those have panned out worth anything.”
That “‘help” Pruitt says has led to little more than time wasted.
“If these people want to help so much, we are always accepting applications from certified individuals,” he said.
He says the investigation has led to the continued thought that if Summer is found – it will be nearby.
“I believe that she would probably be somewhere close by because we have found nothing to believe that she has been abducted or trafficked out of the area,” he said.
Almost a year into the case and Detective Pruitt says it remains a very active investigation, but it’s increasingly hard to hold on to hope.
“I’m not going to let it go cold,” he assured. “We are nine months in. I would hope that she is still alive somewhere, but we also have to be open to the idea that is no longer a possibility.”