A Tennessee high school freshman who was on the run with a 50-year-old married teacher has been found in northern California.
Update: Tad Cummins was arrested in northern California, and Elizabeth Thomas was “safely recovered” on April 20, according to ABC News.
Police have issued an Amber Alert for teenager Elizabeth Thomas, 15, and they believe she is with Tad Cummins, a now fired teacher, father, and grandfather accused of kissing the girl in a classroom. Thomas was a student at the school where he taught.
Thomas’ Instagram profile calls her a “wife” and contains numerous recent graphics about love and soulmates but also about being broken, ugly, and wanting to die. One of her last posts was about Beauty and the Beast and contained the saying, “every beauty needs her beast to protect her from everything but him.”
Cummins allegedly researched teen marriage before vanishing with Thomas, a teen who had been an alleged victim of family abuse and was home schooled until this year.
On Twitter, Cummins described himself as “Jesus freak/child of The King, husband, father, grandfather, high-school teacher, clinician, drummer, audio tech, jeep owner, singer/songwriter, warrior-poet.” He’s been married since 1985, according to his Facebook page, which is filled with photos of Cummins and his wife, Jill, and family.
Cummins’ wife went before the television cameras to plead with her husband to return, but so far there’s been no sign of the student and teacher, despite authorities releasing a string of new videos and photos of Thomas and Tad Cummins in recent days.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Thomas Was Last Seen at a Shoney’s Restaurant in Tennessee & Police Released New Videos & Photos of the Missing Pair
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, authorities say Thomas was last seen on a Monday morning, March 13, “at approximately 8:00 AM at the Shoney’s in Columbia, Tennessee, after being dropped off there by a friend. Her parents reported her as missing later that same day.”
On March 20, the TBI released what it says is the last known photo of Thomas, whom they say was kidnapped:
Authorities wrote on March 20, “One week ago today, Elizabeth Thomas vanished from Columbia, Tennessee. Our efforts to locate her – and the man believed to have kidnapped her – remain active and ongoing, but to this point have produced no credible sightings or actionable information about their whereabouts. The individuals could be anywhere.”
Police also released a surveillance video they say is Cummins filling up his car with gas before taking off with Thomas.
On March 20, authorities released these videos of Cummins in a store:
Cummins was seen buying women’s hair dye. Thomas “changed her social media bio to ‘wife’ before disappearing,” reported UK Daily Mail.
Investigators say they “can place Thomas in Decatur, Alabama at approximately 3:06 CST on Monday afternoon (March 13), though neither individual has a known connection there and may have just been passing through the area.”
They say they have received 450 tips, but have no credible sightings of the girl and teacher since the one in Alabama, leading them to believe “Cummins could have Thomas hidden from view of the general public or far away from Tennessee.”
The TBI urged “property owners – especially in rural areas – to search their grounds for the individuals, the vehicle, or any sign of suspicious activity” and said people should be vigilant around campgrounds.
2. The Teacher Was Fired After Being Accused of Kissing Thomas in a Classroom & Describing Their Relationship as ‘Father-Daughter’ When Confronted
According to ABC 7 Chicago, the teacher was recently accused of having sexual contact with Thomas before the pair disappeared.
Thomas’ sister Sarah Thomas “said she heard Cummins tell stories with other students about being in the FBI, CIA and Secret Service” and called him a “weirdo,” <a href="http://www.wsmv.com/story/34968081/sister-of-amber-alert-victim-says-bullying-was-an-issue
Authorities “confirmed that Cummins is charged in connection with an alleged sexual interaction with Thomas at the school where he taught and she was a student,” the television station reported, adding that the “school district suspended Cummins when the allegations surfaced and terminated his employment Tuesday” March 15.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports that “District Attorney General Brent Cooper confirmed the details of the incident for which Cummins now faces a charge is connected to an alleged interaction between Cummins and Thomas at the school where he taught and where she was a student.”
The school released a detailed timeline of the case. You can read it here.
According to The Columbia Daily Herald, another student walked in on Cummins and Thomas kissing in a classroom. “Cummins and Thomas were sitting side by side in chairs and kissed on the lips as the grandchild, who also attends Culleoka, was using one of the classroom’s computers,” the newspaper reported.
Cummins was suspended February 6 after the report, and authorities were still investigating the situation when he vanished with Thomas, according to the Daily Herald, which said the witness had regarded Cummins as a mentor and told her mother what she saw.
According to CNN, Thomas had taken forensics with Cummins and told the school authorities, according to an investigative report, that “she goes to Cummins’ classroom when she becomes upset or anxious. She considers him a friend and he knows how to calm her down. Other students feel the same about him, she says. She denies that they’ve ever kissed and says that she has been to church with him and his wife. The only times Cummins touched her, she says, is when he gives her the occasional fist bump.”
According to the newspaper, the witness confronted Cummins about the situation, and “he told her they had a daughter-father relationship. They went to church together every Sunday with Tad’s wife. He said he wanted to reassure Beth that no matter how rough her life has been, he was there for her.”
The TBI determined that “Cummins secured a title loan for a personal vehicle and other personal effects several days before his disappearance, netting $4,500 in cash.”
Cummins was added to the 10 Most Wanted list on March 17, the newspaper reported.
3. Thomas Was Home Schooled & Had an Abusive Family Life & Cummins Posted About Being in Love on Instagram
According to WSMV, Thomas was home schooled until her freshman year of high school. The television station quoted the local district attorney as saying her home life was a troubled one.
The television station reported that “police arrested Elizabeth’s mother, Kimberly Thomas, last year. She was charged with five counts of child abuse and neglect. According to court documents, Kimberly Thomas beat Elizabeth and four of her siblings.”
WSMV reported that Elizabeth told investigators her mother “banged her head into the agitator of the washing machine” and “threw her down the basement stairs and locked her down there.” Kimberly Thomas “is also accused of making the children get naked in front of several other people,” the television station reported, adding that “Elizabeth is one of 10 children in a single-parent home because her father now has full custody of all of them.”
On Twitter, Thomas’ father has implored his daughter to come home, saying she has been missing since March 17.
In one heartbreaking post, he wrote, “Izzy! Please come home to us! I can’t live without you!!!????”
The other posts said Thomas was missing and urged the public to help find her. The Tennessean reported that authorities believe Thomas had a difficult life, and Cummins may have taken advantage of that, although they did not provide details. TBI says he may be having her sleep in her car or keeping her otherwise out of the public eye because of the low number of tips, and authorities say that they believe Cummins’ planned the vanishing act in advance.
On his Twitter page, Cummins had posted sayings about teaching, including retweeting this one:
He also posted about politics, indicating he was tuning into a debate to hear Donald Trump, and posted photos of himself with other students in school activities. He taught at Culleoka Unit School, according to WHNT, which quoted surprised neighbors describing Cummins as devoted to his family, down-to-earth, and intelligent.
An Instagram page in Cummins’ name posted numerous photos about love in recent days. Among them, “you’re all my heart ever talks about” and “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”
Although his Instagram page was littered with photos about being in love, Cummins shared his Facebook page with his wife, Jill, and mostly posted photos of the couple and family on it.
Culleoka Unit School describes itself as “located in the southeastern corner of Maury County, Tennessee, USA. The school serves over 1,000 students in kindergarten through grade 12.”
4. Authorities Say They Are ‘Extremely Concerned’ About the Teen’s Welfare & Accuse Cummins of Grooming Her for Abuse
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a statement that authorities are “extremely concerned for the well-being of Elizabeth Thomas, the victim in an ongoing AMBER Alerts in Tennessee and Alabama.”
“Though the TBI cannot discuss specifics at this time, investigative efforts have revealed a troubling pattern of behavior by Tad Cummins, suggesting the 50-year-old may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom this vulnerable young girl for some time in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her,” reported the TBI.
According to the UK Daily Mail, Cummins, a health teacher, met the teen, who was one of a family of 10 children, “through the local chapter of HOSA, an international student organization that promotes career opportunities in the health care industry.”
“What Tad did, he stole my daughter from me, but Maury County is a big community. He didn’t just steal from me, he stole from the whole community,” her father said at a vigil.
5. Police Believe That Cummins May Be Armed & His Wife Begged Him to Return the Teen
Cummins’ wife, Jill, went public to plead with her husband to return the teenager.
“Let me speak directly to my husband,” Jill Cummins said, Fox-17 Nashville reported. “Tad, this is not you. This is not who you are. We can help you get through this. No matter how far you’ve gone or what’s happening right now, God’s grace is sufficient for you and He wants you to come home. Your family wants their Papi back. Please do the right thing, and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth home.”
The Tennessee statewide Amber Alert was issued by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on behalf of the Maury County Sheriff Department for 15-year old Thomas.
The alert says she “is white, blonde hair, hazel eyes, 5’5” and 120 pounds, last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings. She may be in the area of Decatur Alabama.”
Cummins is described in the alert as a “white male, 6’0”, 200 pounds, brown hair and eyes. He is believed to be armed with two handguns and driving a Silver Nissan Rogue, TN tag, 976ZPT. A warrant has been issued for Cummins for Sexual Contact with a Minor.”
People with information were urged to call the MCSD at 931-375-8654 or the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.
Cummins has no adult criminal record in Tennessee, according to WHNT-TV.