Memphis couple confirmed dead; 3 sons hospitalized from Sevier Co. fires

NASHVILLE (WBIR) -- Jon and Janet Summers, the Memphis couple missing since the spread of the Gatlinburg fires, were confirmed dead late Thursday, family and friends confirmed.

"I am sorry to report that a 4:45 pm CST the Sevier County Sheriff's department has reported that the Medical Examiner has confirmed that two of the bodies found in North Chalet Village were Jon and Janet Summers," Jim Summers, Jon's brother, wrote on Facebook.

The Summers, both 61, and their three sons were in Gatlinburg for a birthday celebration and had been staying at the Chalet Village a little west of the city’s downtown. But when the wildfires spread, the Summers tried to flee by car. However, friends said, their path was blocked by debris. The Summers then left their car and tried to flee on foot, but became separated.

All three boys – Branson, 23, and Jared and Wesley, who turned 22 on Wednesday – were rescued and taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. All three were recovering Thursday - Jared as stable condition and Wesley in stable condition with Branson in critical but stable condition.

No one had seen or heard from Jon and Janet since that attempted escape, and friends and family hoped for good news but feared what they would eventually hear. That word came down late Thursday, that two of the bodies recovered earlier had been positively identified as the Summers. They were identified through dental records.

Jon and Janet Summers left Memphis this weekend for a quick getaway to the Smoky Mountains to celebrate their twin sons' 22nd birthday. They booked a lodge at Chalet Village, which is a couple miles west of downtown Gatlinburg. The fire apparently began Monday evening at a point on Chimney Tops Trail, south of Gatlinburg in the mountains, officials have said. High winds spread the flames, sending them scorching toward the resort area. Reports show that much of Chalet Village and nearby areas were heavily damaged.

More than 17,000 acres have burned and more than 400 businesses and home have been damaged or destroyed, officials said.

The Summers family abandoned their vehicle and got separated as they fled the fire Tuesday. Branson Summers, 23, and twins Wesley and Jared, 22, were hospitalized after they were caught in the fire.

Their uncle, Jim Summers posted on Facebook Thursday morning updates about the search for his brother and sister-in-law and about the conditions of his nephews. Later Thursday afternoon, hospital officials said Jared is in stable condition, Wesley was upgraded to stable and Branson remained in critical but stable condition.

"Jared has been moved out of ICU burn to a step down room on same floor. Branson's thoracostomy procedure began at 7:30. Will update when doctor calls," Jim Summers wrote.

He posted earlier there was a possibility they could be discharged Sunday from the hospital.

"Sunday discharge not cast in stone. Many things can occur that would extend that, but still positive since we were looking at weeks vs days on arrival. Thanks again for all the prayers and well wishes. So very much appreciated," Jim Summers said on Facebook.

He then went on to update family and friends about the condition of his nephews. He said that Branson Summers will have to undergo another procedure to repair a small leakage in his collapsed lung.

"All, this morning at 6 a.m. Ruth and the attending physician contacted me and advised that Branson had developed a very small leakage in the fire damaged lung, and would need a thoracostomy to plug the leakage and remove the fluid from the is chest cavity," Jim Summers wrote. "This will not interfere with his recovery, and will assist in recovering a partially collapsed lung. This is not an unusual condition, considering the trauma from the injury. It not a procedure to be postponed, and I advised the physician to move forward with the procedure, which is done in the room. It takes about 10 minutes. The condition was found with a routine chest X-ray used to monitor lung and chest cavity while he is on the respirator. The risks are minor from the procedure, major if no effort is made to plug the leak. I have no further information at this time."

Jim Summers later posted another update about Jared and Wesley Summers.

"Jared's ventilator was successfully removed yesterday, and he did well. "It was decided to hold off on any attempts to remove Branson and Wesley from the ventilator until more time has passed. If Jared continues to breathe on his own today, there is a possibility he will be discharged from emergency care, and move to dressing replacement and wound care. No surgery planned. With the exception of the minor setback to Branson this morning, he and Wesley may be discharged by Sunday, and will then have follow up care for the injuries. But out of the woods in terms of critical vs stable. Improvement continues."

All three brothers have been hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Medical Center since Tuesday. On Thursday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said Jared Summers is in stable condition, Wesley Summers has been upgraded to stable condition and Brandon Summers remains in critical, but stable condition.

Shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday, Jim Summers added another update.

"Jared has been moved out of ICU burn to a step down room on same floor. Branson's thoracostomy procedure began at 7:30. Will update when doctor calls," Jim Summers wrote.

As family and friends continued prayers for the family, donations poured into a fund that has been set up for their sons.

As of Thursday morning, more than $29,000 in donations had been made to the fund.

The website can be found at youcaring.com/bransonsummersjaredsummersandwesleysummers-704149.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has established a hot line for reports of missing persons in the East Tennessee wildfires: 1-800-TBI-FIND.

Tennessean reporter Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this report.

The family released this statement yesterday:

“The Summers boys are stable, and one of them has been able to talk briefly and share his feelings and concerns for his brothers and parents.  We have family and friends coming in from all over the country to be here with us.  So many have expressed the desire to assist, and a website has been set up for the benefit of the boys.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support by so many people, and look forward to the continued recovery of Branson, Jared and Wesley.

We continue to pray that Jon and Janet are found and we thank everyone for your kind thoughts and prayers.”


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