Nearly two weeks have passed since the mysterious disappearance of Summer Wells, a 5 year old from Hawkins County, Tennessee. Investigators have been searching for the girl, but rumours, an apparent lack of suspects, and zealous tipsters have complicated the rescue effort.
Summer's mother, Candus Bly, appeared on WJHL, a local broadcaster, to discuss her daughter's disappearance.
Ms Bly told reporters that she, her mother, her daughter Summer and her sons were planting flowers on the day the little girl disappeared.
“I walked [Summer] all the way over to the porch, and I watched her walking into the kitchen where the boys were watching TV. I told the boys, I said ‘watch Summer, I'll be back’ and within two minutes I came back. And I asked the boys where their sister was, and they said ‘she went downstairs, Mom, to play with her toys in the playroom,’” she said.
Ms Bly said she called for her daughter, who did not answer. After the little girl did not answer, she claims she went into the basement to look for her little girl, but found she was not there.
“I feel in my heart that somebody has came up here and took her ... has lured her away from here,” Ms Bly said.
She made a direct plea to the alleged kidnappers.
“Whoever has my daughter, I pray they haven't harmed her and they bring her back to us safe and sound,” she said.
It is unclear why Ms Bly believes someone lured her out of the house, as she has thus far presented no evidence to suggest anyone else was at or outside her home at the time her daughter disappeared.
“I'm just scared that somebody's hurting her and there's nothing I can do about it. And it – it smothers me,” she said.
Don Wells, the girl's father, shares Ms Bly's belief that a kidnapper snatched his daughter.
On Monday, he said he believed that a kidnapper came down a nearby hill by their home, threw her into a car, and drove away. As with Ms Bly's theory, Mr Wells presented no evidence to back up that claim.
Though Ms Bly apparently did not see anyone, there are plenty of people who claim they know something about the little girl's disappearance; more than 650 tips have been received by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation regarding the girl's disappearance. Many of these appear to be dead ends or idle speculation, however, as the investigatory agency has asked that people only submit credible information to the tips lines to help authorities avoid wasting time sifting through rumours.
“Sharing speculation or rumours only makes the process more difficult for law enforcement by increasing the number of non-credible tips,” the agency said in a tweet.
Investigators said they have been “frustrated” by both the lack of credible suspects and the “rugged, mountainous terrain” where the alleged abduction took place.
Mr Wells and Ms Bly both addressed rumours circulating on social media that there was a red truck present at the time of the girl's abduction.
“There's always going to be haters, you know, and they are always going to be that way in this world,” he said. “We'll just want to focus on the good friends and Christian people that are trying to help us and praying for us and praying for Summer.”
He said they didn't know anything “about ... no red truck”, a reference to a vehicle that witnesses said they saw in the area around the time that Summer is believed to have been abducted. Police have insisted that the driver is not a suspect, but is being sought as a possible witness to whatever happened to the little girl.
Ms Bly also addressed the truck, but said she did not know anyone who drove a red Toyota pickup.
“It's really strange that I've never seen this truck,” she said. “And I've never heard of it until just recently, but I wish they would come forward and explain themselves. If you're not a suspect, at least come forward and say what you've seen.”
TBI has asked for the public's help in locating the child. The agency does not appear to be treating the parents as suspects at this time.
Both Mr Wells and Ms Bly have criminal history outside of Tennessee.
Mr Wells was convicted of multiple violent felonies and has served time in prison for his convictions that include drug charges, burglaries and parole violations in Arkansas, Utah and Texas. Mr Wells was arrested last October after Ms Bly accused him of domestic assault. Deputies found him drunk in his vehicle attempting to drive up his own driveway when he was arrested.
She dropped those charges less than a week later.
Ms Bly has a record in the state of Wisconsin, most recently a guilty plea on misdemeanour domestic abuse charges from 2003.
Evidence of a criminal record is not sufficient evidence to suggest any sort of guilt or complicity on the part of Summer's parents, however.
This is not Ms Bly's first time dealing with the mysterious disappearance of a loved one; in 2009, her sister, Rose Marie Bly, disappeared from her home in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.
“I don’t know all of what happened or what did happen, but I hope that they find [Rose Mary Bly], too,” Ms Bly said. “It makes no sense at all, how can people just vanish and not be heard from or seen without a trace? It’s very devastating.”
Rescue efforts in the area are being scaled back, though Church Hill Rescue Squad, which is coordinating the search, said that the reduction was not an indication that they were giving up the search.
“Just because we may not be seen as such a large presence in and throughout the area, rest assured that we have not quit and won’t quit until we find Summer Wells,” the group said in a statement.
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