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National Missing Children’s Day | Hundreds of kids reported missing each month in TN

Leslie Earhart with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told WVLT News that 400 to 600 children are reported missing in Tennessee every month.
It’s been one year since Hawkins County child Summer Moon-Utah Wells went missing, and investigators are still trying to find out what happene
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 3:18 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2022 at 6:08 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - National Missing Children’s Day is observed on May 25, each year to remember the thousands of missing kids worldwide while highlighting continued efforts aimed at reuniting them with their loved ones. The Department of Justice stated it was also a day to honor those dedicated to the cause, such as law enforcement and organizations.

Former President Ronald Reagan proclaimed May 25, 1983, the first day of observance. He did so to remember Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who disappeared from a New York City street corner on May 25, 1979.

Leslie Earhart with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told WVLT News that hundreds of children are reported missing in Tennessee every month.

Earhart also said that the number of missing children was dynamic and everchanging, preventing the TBI from building a comprehensive list, especially with children going missing or being found every day.

However, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated there were over 130 active missing children cases in the state. Currently, there are seven active alerts in the state - four AMBER Alerts and two Endangered Child Alerts.

Summer Moon-Utah Wells, a child from Hawkins County whose disappearance captivated the nation, remains on the list. National Missing Children’s Day marked precisely three weeks ahead of the one-year date that the 6-year-old girl was reported missing from her Rogersville home on June 15, 2021.

While her parents believed she was abducted from their residence on Ben Hill Road, the TBI has repeatedly reported no evidence supporting that claim.

Don Wells invited WVLT News to his home in Rogersville to show in detail what he thinks happened to his daughter.

Wells said he believed someone came through a trail covered in woods near the family home and took Summer.

“We don’t know if someone was waiting in the basement or if she come outside here and went to the swing or possibly back up there to grandmas. We don’t know. All we know is that she went down to the basement. That’s the only thing we know. - to play with her toys,” explained Wells.

Nearly a year later, search efforts continue from law enforcement agencies across the state.

In addition, AMBER Alerts for Gage Daniel, Chloie Leverett, and Zaylee Fryar remain active.

Gage and Chloie have been missing since 2012 out of Unionville. They lived with their grandparents in a home that burned to the ground, but investigators found no evidence that the children died in the fire, according to the TBI.

Zaylee Fryar was only four months old when she disappeared along with her mother in Millersville in 2011. Her mother was found dead, but Zaylee has not been seen since.

There are currently two Endangered Child Alerts on the TBI’s website.

Carter Mitchell Neal, 13, may be with his non-custodial mother, Hailey Whitehorn, in a 2004 white Cadillac Escalade or Chevrolet Lumina, with license plate 6N62J7.

Eva Alejandra Lopez, 15, remains listed as an “endangered runaway” and was last seen on September 22, 2015. She is believed to be in the company of 25-year-old Avaro Gamez Martinez, who is wanted for six counts of aggravated statutory rape.

For the TBI to issue an AMBER or Endangered Child Alert, missing children must first meet specific criteria.

AMBER Alert

Officials reserve AMBER Alerts for the most serious missing children cases, in which when the TBI or other law enforcement believe that a child could be in immediate danger, the TBI’s website states.

Per the TBI, an AMBER Alert can only be issued in the following criteria are met:

1. The person is 17 years of age or younger.

2. The child is in imminent danger of bodily injury or death.

3. There is a description of the child, the abductor, or vehicle.

4. On a request from another state for activation, there is a direct and identified nexus to the state of Tennessee, and that information is conveyed to TBI at the time of the request.

Endangered Child Alert

The TBI’s website states that an ECA would be issued for missing children cases in which there was a concern for a child’s safety.

Officials note that the individuals listed on the site do not represent all missing persons in the state. The ones posted may be those in a variety of circumstances, including parental abductions, children considered at-risk, those who’ve left home on their own, individuals who meet criteria for AMBER, Endangered Child, or Silver alerts and other types of cases in which publicity may prove helpful in locating them.

Earhart said that issued alerts never expire for missing children.

On National Missing Children’s Day, the TBI wanted to remind the community to think ahead and prepare for the unexpected by using the TN KidKit. Officials said that “when a child goes missing, every second matters,” saying that having the correct information can make a huge difference in how a case is closed.

The software serves as a resource to parents and guardians in the state. It is also free and easy to use, according to officials. To take advantage of the tool, caregivers just have to download the PDF, fill it out and save it in a safe place.

A spokesperson said, “If taking ten minutes to prepare right now could make the difference when it matters most, wouldn’t you?”

Visit the TBI’s website to view the latest missing children in Tennessee. Those with information on any missing children in the state of Tennessee are urged to call 1-800-TBI-FIND.

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