Tennessee Amber Alert: Dive teams, specialized units join search for missing 5-year-old

More than 41 agencies and more than a hundred professionals have joined searching in a northeast Tennessee town for a missing 5-year-old girl. The third full day of the active search ended Friday evening.

Summer Moon-Utah Wells was last seen at her home in the Beech Creek community of Hawkins County, Tennessee. That community is located along the Interstate 81 corridor just over 70 miles northeast of Knoxville or 15 miles southwest of Kingsport, Tennessee. Her disappearance triggered a statewide Amber Alert on Wednesday afternoon.

During a press conference Friday afternoon, officials said about 688 acres of extreme terrain has been searched by the ground with the expectation nearly 1,000 acres will have been combed over by 8 p.m. Friday. In addition, aerial searches using helicopter, fixed-wing aircraft, and drones continued.

"We are still experiencing steep and dangerous terrain which causes our teams to become exhausted very quick," said Captain Tim Coup, of the Churchill Rescue Squad, who is leading the active search.

Captain Coup said they have added more resources including a specialized advance mapping system, dive teams, hazardous and extreme terrain search teams, subject matter expects, the state’s TAC and radio system, urban search and rescue teams, and other state and federal resources.

"We want to get in there, check every… flip every rock, check every crevasse, check every spot, just to make sure we don’t miss a spot,"

The captain said there are several creeks and streams as well as ponds and holding spots for livestock in the area that the dive teams will be assisting in searching. Meanwhile, officials comment on what they could on the investigation side of the case.

"I want to reiterate there are two aspects to this of this investigation: the search and the investigation itself," said Leslie Earhart, spokesperson for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. "You heard a lot of the search because that’s something we can elaborate on. What you haven’t heard a lot about is what’s happening outside the search."

Earhart said more than 85 tips have come in about Summer’s disappearance and investigators have been working to clear or confirm each one.

She said all avenues are being explored and all leads are being followed up on.

"I can assure you that the investigation of our law enforcement is extremely intense just like the boots on the ground," said Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson.

Officials said they will be following any creditable lead and asked the public to continue to offer them, but asks people not to participate in any speculation and conjecture, especially on social media.

"We are amazed at the amount of attention this has, a lot of it because of you all," said Sheriff Lawson. "But we are monitoring all social medias. We are just overwhelmed with the support of the community. I have been in law enforcement for over 44 years and I’ve never seen the outpouring of a community supporting any other cause because they know it’s all about finding Summer."

Officials reiterated that the public’s assistance is not needed and might actually hamper their efforts, but they can help in other ways.

"We have a lot of people praying," the sheriff said. "We got a lot people with boots on the ground." 

Flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, notes, and candles have begun to appear at a makeshift memorial in a prayer garden at a church near the young girl’s home in hopes the young girl will come home and see it.

The sheriff said deputies and the TBI have done several searches, but have not needed any search warrants to this point. He said the community is resolved to finding Summer.

Summer is described by investigators as being 3-feet tall, weighing about 40 pounds, with blonde hair, and blue eyes. She was last seen wearing gray pants and a pink shirt. She is believed to be barefoot and her hair is now shorter than photos released by the TBI. She is believed to have wandered away from her home, but what happened next is anyone’s guess.

Sheriff Lawson said Summer’s parents are continuing to cooperate fully in the investigation. Officials would not comment on recent reported comments made by Summer’s father expressing his belief she was abducted.

"We’re trying to find out exactly what happened to his young lady and we’re not going to stop until we find her," he said.

Anyone who sees Summer is asked to call 911 immediately. Anyone with any information about her whereabouts is asked to call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND or the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office at 423-272-7121.

This story is being reported out of Atlanta

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