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The 'Cornbread Mafia': Day one of the Summer Wells case on Dr. Phil

The parents of missing 5-year-old Summer Wells were not given time on Dr. Phil’s stage, in person, during the first of two episodes the television show has titled “The Disappearance of Summer Wells.”

Airing Thurs- day, the first hour-long episode only showed Summer’s parents, Don Wells and Candus Bly, in pre-recorded videos. The show’s host, Phil McGraw, Ph.D., instead spoke onstage with two men he described as body language or human behavior analysts.

Near the opening of the show, some video footage showed Don Wells driving through what appeared to be the Beech Creek community of Hawkins County, near the Sullivan County line in the Lone Star Road area.

As Wells spoke about June 15, the day Summer was reported missing by her parents, he pulled into an grassy area near Ben Hill Road, where Summer was reported last seen by family members.

Wells said he’d hurried home after Bly phoned him at work to say she couldn’t find Summer, and arrived to see family and neighbors searching the area.

“My heart sunk because I knew she was abducted,” Wells said into the camera. “I knew she was gone.”

McGraw said Summer’s parents, like many people today who want to spread work quickly, turned to social media soon after their daughter was reported missing — and while finding some support, also became targets of bullying, accusations and threats.

The couple agreed to meet with body language analysts in what was presented to them as a way to help prove those online naysayers wrong, McGraw said.

The show’s website describes the two men as “interrogators who have worked with the FBI, law enforcement and the military and have been referred to as a human lie detector.”

The bulk of Thursday’s show was devoted to clips from that meeting, which was videotaped near the family’s home, and some blow-by-blow breakdowns of how McGraw and the two analysts interpreted the couple’s answers and physical reactions.

At one point, a clip showed Wells answering the analysts’ questions about what he thinks happened to Summer with, “She was kidnapped.”

McGraw red-flagged that, saying it was a departure from the earlier-used “abducted.” One of the analysts said “kidnapping” infers a “transactional” event.

Early in the show a clip was shown of Bly breaking down during that interview, crying and complaining she felt interrogated and wanted to stop. She was shown removing the microphone attached to her clothing and leaving the room.

At some point the three weighed in on a clip edited down to Summer’s mother’s answering “no” to three quickly fired questions: Did she hurt Summer; does she know what happened to Summer; and does she know who took her daughter.

McGraw and the analysts, who agree they could easily be mistaken for law enforcement officers, drew attention to and replayed the portion of the tape of Bly saying “no” three times, once for each question. The three men specifically noted the third “no” was said in a lower voice after a slight side-to-side head shake.

Asked later what she thinks should happen to the person who took Summer, Bly paused before saying they should be put away for life. McGraw and the analysts said the pause raised questions for them.

Then it was pointed out she raised one eyebrow while thinking about her answer, which the analysts interpreted as her not being sure what she should say.

Later, McGraw and the analysts went back to the taped scene where Bly broke down crying and left, to reveal what she’d been asked just before she lost her composure.

The two analysts had asked the couple if they thought the “Cornbread Mafia” could be involved in Summer’s disappearance.

Summer’s father said he’d heard of something called the hillbilly mafia, but he and his family had tried to stay clear of them.

McGraw explained to his show’s viewers that “Cornbread Mafia” is a “colloquialism” used to describe a grass-roots crime syndicate in Tennessee.

McGraw and the analysts replayed the video clip and said the mention of the Cornbread Mafia coincided with the beginning of Bly frowning, then beginning to cry, and said it showed her having a strong emotional reaction, which could be anything from fear to guilt to pain. Her actions, they said, were signs of “insulating and running.”

After she said she felt like she was being interrogated and wanted to stop the interview, Wells tried to calm her, saying the men were asking the questions to try and help find Summer.

“It’s not helping me,” she said.

Before the final commercial break, about 50 minutes into the one-hour show, McGraw told viewers the parents in-person appearance was next up. When the break was over, McGraw told the audience “we’re out of time” and said to tune in tomorrow to see whether the couple shows up and if they do, whether Summer’s mother will stay onstage throughout McGraw’s questioning or leave the room.

A preview of Friday’s show, which airs locally at 4 p.m. on WJHL, showed Bly on the “Dr. Phil” set being asked about what happened to Summer.

“I have no idea what happened,” Bly said.

McGraw said he doesn’t believe Bly began looking for Summer or called Wells as quickly as the two-to-three minutes he said she’s said, calling it “inconsistent” with everything he’s seen.

“I do not have a hyper-vigilant mom here,” McGraw said.

McGraw said he wasn’t accusing Bly of wrongdoing, but “it doesn’t add up” and when things don’t add up he has questions.

The show was taped weeks ago. Summer’s parents have been contractually bound not to talk about their appearance on the show prior to its airdates.


Local-news
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Veterans Day observance recognizes service, sacrifice

KINGSPORT — Service and sacrifice are what make Veterans Day special in the eyes of Americans.

It’s also a day to say thanks to the men and women who have served this country, while remembering the thousands who have yet to come home from nearly 100 years of foreign wars.

Speakers conveyed these messages during a Veterans Day observance at the Kingsport Veterans Memorial on Thursday. More than 100 men and women — many of whom are veterans — came to the memorial at J. Fred Johnson Park to show their support for our veterans and to thank them for their service.

“Thank you for taking the time to join us as we pause to remember and recognize those who have served our country, to protect our freedoms, guarded our way of life, defended our flag and steadfastly upheld the Constitution through the years,” said Robert Williams, First Vice Commander with American Legion Hammond Post No. 3. “Their service and sacrifice are what makes Veterans Day special in the eye of Americans.”

Veterans Day is an annual U.S. holiday honoring military veterans, with ceremonies typically held at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — the official ending of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed the holiday in 1919, then called Armistice Day, to honor the veterans of WWI. President Dwight Eisenhower expanded the holiday to include all veterans.

Bill Kilgore, past national commander of AMVETS (a veterans service organization), gave the keynote speech at Thursday’s event, talking about his tenure with the veterans organization and some of its accomplishments over the past 50 years.

Kilgore served his country for 39 years, in the U.S. Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Individual Ready Reserve. For nearly 50 years, he’s served at AMVETS — the country’s fourth-largest veterans service organization, which serves more than 400,000 veterans and their families.

“It’s been 50 years of service to veterans, the greatest America has to offer is our veterans and I’d like to thank you all for being here and celebrate the service of all veterans,” Kilgore said.

The hour-long observance included the presentation of colors, the singing of the National Anthem and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.

As with previous observances, the Vietnam Veterans of America 979 performed its missing man ceremony to remember the more than 83,000 Americans still missing from World War II to the present conflicts in the Middle East.

“For all of our veterans, from my heart to yours, thank you for serving,” said Pastor Rodney Fields during Thursday’s invocation. “As I look about our crowd, I see a lot of folks missing, many of younger generation just don’t seem to understand what this day is all about. I pray you help us pass on the tradition of meeting, gathering, remembering those who have given so very much.”

Brian Trent, president of the Rotary Club of Kingsport, announced the club’s signature project this year is to install a new kiosk at the Kingsport Veterans Memorial, which the club hopes to unveil on Memorial Day 2022.

“We want to make it easy to find a family member with a mapping system at this new kiosk with a central location and one that’s easy to navigate,” Trent said. “We’re very excited to bring this project to life.”


Downtown Johnson City will transform for 'Candy Land Christmas'

Thousands of lights will herald the return of a downtown Johnson City tradition in 2021.

The Candy Land Christmas will feature magical displays, 152 Christmas trees, a holiday market and much more, according to a press release from Connect Downtown Johnson City. The organization is hosting the event in collaboration with the city and Visit Johnson City.

The celebration will kick off on Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. with a grand lighting event in the heart of downtown. During the lighting event, attendees will enjoy a musical performance from the Indian Trail Intermediate School Chorus at King Commons Park and the First Christian Church Choir at Founders Park.

The Christmas trees will be illuminated every evening until Jan. 2.

In December last year, the Blue Plum Organization hosted “Christmas in the Park” at Founders Park, an event that featured 65 holiday trees decorated by local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Thanks to presenting sponsor Bank of Tennessee, Candy Land Christmas will double in size from last year, featuring 152 holiday trees, 150 of which are decorated by either local businesses or nonprofit organizations.

Together, organizers say, these trees will help tell the story of the community.

This year, holiday trees will transform Founders Park into the Gumdrop Forest and King Commons into Cupcake Commons. By expanding their Christmas footprint, organizers say, they will welcome more visitors to the event and allow for ample space for social distancing and safe holiday ventures.

Connect Downtown Johnson City expects Candy Land Christmas to be a boon to downtown Johnson City during the holiday season.

The organization encourages families to visit downtown to walk through green spaces, grab dinner at local restaurants and shop at small businesses.

“We anticipate this event will fuel our local businesses and support our district,” the press release stated. “Candy Land Christmas is more than just two parks filled with Christmas decorations — it’s a community event that brings everyone togeth- er, creates a lifetime of memories, and is now a great annual tradition.”

Event sponsors include Bank of Tennessee, Evans and Evans Real Estate Agents Cortney Stewart and Amanda Westbrook, Gabriel’s Christmas, TownView Senior Living, SaladWorks and BrightRidge Broadband.

More information is available at downtownjc.com/candylandchristmas.

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Education
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Watch now: Students at ribbon cutting say West Ridge High unified

BLOUNTVILLE — West Ridge High School held its ribbon cutting on a breezy November Thursday afternoon, but the message of a unified school family got through the wind loud and clear.

The ribbon cutting on Veterans Day had been postponed initially because of a rainy August, which along with an underground pipe failure caused a hole to form in the track and has delayed the final surfacing until February.

And then the late arrivals of bookcases and other furnishings prompted school officials to push the ribbon cutting back more.

Some of the things, including big-screen monitor menus for the cafeteria, still have not arrived at the first new Sullivan County high school to open since 1980.

However, Principal Josh Davis said the school, its students, faculty and staff, have proven flexible enough to handle situations as they present themselves.

That includes being the only 6A football team left in the playoffs from Northeast Tennessee, facing off against Maryville High on Friday night at Maryville.

COME TOGETHER RIGHT NOW

Pupils and Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said the student body has come together as one family rather than just students from three former high schools under one roof at 380 Lynn Road, off Exit 63 of Interstate 81.

“We are unified as one. We are West Ridge,” Student Body President Gracie Olinger said at the ribbon cutting, which was followed by an open house.

“It’s hard to pick who was a (Sullivan Central High) Cougar, who was a (Sullivan North) Raider and who was a (South) Rebel,” said football player Fletcher Gibson, a senior who went to South until this school year.

“When we started out, I was not into it. I wanted to stay at South,” said Fletcher, who like Gracie and Benjamin Novak served on the school naming committee. “Coming to know the football team is like introducing a whole new family into my life.”

Retired Director of Schools David Cox and current Director Evelyn Rafalowski addressed the crowd gathered for the ribbon cutting, as did school board Vice Chairman Michael Hughes and Davis.

Cox quoted Chief Seattle, who wrote that we don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors but we borrow it from our children, the idea being to “pay it forward” to future generations.

“This school’s greatest champion is and has been Evelyn Rafalowski,” Cox said of the person whose place he took in 2019 and who replaced him after he retired two years later.

Cox and Hughes said West Ridge might never have existed without what Cox called her “hard work and dedication.” He also thanked school board members, and Hughes said the school is better than he’d ever imagined.

Hughes thanked former board members Jerry Greene, who voted for the school, retired before the school was built and attended the ribbon cutting, and Dan Wells, who narrowly lost a school board election after voting to move forward with West Ridge.

“I had a vision of what this could be. It turned out so much better,” Hughes said of the $75 million school.

Rafalowski, who was a consultant for West Ridge and the new Sullivan East Middle in the time between being director, quoted President Abraham Lincoln, saying the best way to predict the future is to create it.

County Mayor Richard Venable paraphrased an old saying about a house not being a home until the family lives there by saying, “A building is not a school until the family moves in.”

BOOK SHELVES FINALLY ARRIVE

Davis said the book shelves arrived about four days before Thursday’s open house, time to install them but not get all 12,000 books on the shelves.

“We use this area for a lot of things,” Davis said of dances and other events. “We can wheel this stuff.”

He said the first West Ridge prom may be held on campus, not the in Commons but under tents on the artificial turf of the football field.

“We’re constantly evolving,” Davis said. “We have what we need.”

MEET AN AMBASSADOR

Students wearing blue West Ridge shirts were among 14 ambassadors, students chosen to give tours and provide information about the school to visitors.

One of those ambassadors was Kaitlyn Lemmons, a Sullivan North High student who made the transition to West Ridge and will be part of the first graduating class from there in May 2022.

“Everything we do at West Ridge is so special and unique in its own way,” said Kaitlyn, who plans to study nursing at East Tennessee State University or the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The cheerleader, also HOSA president and a member of the Key Club, Beta Club and Pep Club, said North was a great school but that West Ridge offers more programs of study than North or Sullivan South and Sullivan Central could.MOM AND DAD TAKE AUDITORIUM TOUR

Chris and Melissa Moles were getting a private tour of the recently completed auditorium, which still smelled of new carpet, from their children Emma and John Large, respectively a freshman and sophomore.

Emma said she liked the cafe, which serves food in off hours, although her father quipped that cost him more per week. However, he said his only real complaint “is the traffic, one way in and one way out.”

He said that makes for bus and car transportation woes, something the school board is trying to address with an access driveway off Henry Harr Road in addition to Lynn Road access and a potential new access road linking to state Route 357.

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The Christmas Connection is celebrating 42 years of bringing some of the region’s best arts and crafts vendors to Kingsport.


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