Tad Cummins, 50, has been placed under arrest and Elizabeth Thomas was recovered safely in a remote area in northern California — over 2,500 miles from their home — thanks to a tip, authorities said at a Thursday press conference.
Cummins was taken into police custody and now faces a federal charge of transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of sexual contact in addition to state charges of having sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping.
The two had been on the run together since mid-March, and authorities underwent a nation-wide manhunt for them, though none of the thousands of tips had led to their whereabouts until receiving one from a 29-year-old worker in California.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Cummins & Thomas Were Located In a Remote Cabin in Cecilville, California
Officials with the TBI confirmed that they followed-up on a tip late in the evening on April 19 that said Cummins and Thomas may be in Cecilville, California, an unincorporated town in the Six Rivers National Forest.
The tipster, later identified as cabin caretaker Griffin Barry, called the agency’s tipline at about 11 p.m. on April 19 indicating that Cummins and Thomas may have moved into a small cabin in the area within the past last week.
Barry said that he let the couple, who went by the names John and Joanna, stay at an unfinished cabin in exchange for work. He eventually realized who the two were when one of his neighbors showed him a picture of Thomas’ missing person poster.
Barry told KRCR that Cummins said he was 44-years-old and Thomas was 22, noting that he had suffered a house fire, lost his job and only had $10 left to his name. He said that Thomas didn’t speak much; Cummins did most of the speaking.
Barry said that he worked a full day with Cummins doing hard labor and gave him $40 to fill up his car with gas before noticing it was him.
After Barry’s tip, the TBI contacted the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department who said they received the same information. Siskiyou County Sheriffs deputies traveled about two hours to the remote area, where there is no cell phone service, and located Cummins’ Nissan Rogue with no license plates. They confirmed it was his car through its vehicle identification number.
Officials surveyed the car for a few hours into the morning of April 20 and got assistance from Barry to get Cummins out of the cabin at around 4 a.m.
“I was driving by trying to flush him out,” Barry told KRCR. “(Sheriff’s deputies) were like, ‘honk the horn!’ I’m glad I got to help.”
Cummins came out and was into custody by police without incident. They said that Thomas appeared to be in good condition with no injuries.
Thomas Family Rejoices At the Good News
Shortly after Thomas was recovered safely, her family said it was “the best day (they) could have ever imagined.”
The Thomas family appeared on the show Good Morning America on April 21, saying that while Thomas isn’t home yet, she is expected to be back later on. They added that Thomas may have mental problems as a result of the abduction, including being “brainwashed.
Thomas’ grandmother, who wished to remain unidentified, told PEOPLE that the Thomas’ were overcome with emotion upon receiving the good news.
We’re absolutely ecstatic, what other things could we say? And we’re very appreciative for all the people that prayed for this day to happen.
In the exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Thomas’ older sister Kat Bozeman said that while Elizabeth looks healthy physcially, her mental state is unknown.
TBI said she appeared to be in physical healthy condition. We don’t know about her mental state as of this moment. We know the police retrieved her and trying to bring her back home. We’re excited. We’re absolutely thrilled and blessed to have her safe and on her way home. Its’ amazing, this is the best day we ever could have imagined.
Maury County Public Schools, where Cummins was employed and Thomas attended school, issued a statement after news of Thomas being located was announced. It said that now that she has been found safe, the school district and surrounding community can “begin healing.”
In the statement, the district thanked the work of the officials in the search for Thomas, expressing gratitude that it ended with her being found unharmed.
2. Cummins, Thomas’ High School Teacher, Was Previously Suspended For Kissing ThomasCummins, who has now been fired from his school, was a health sciences teacher at Culleoka Unit School in Maury County, Tennessee. Thomas was in 10th grade at the school and was a student in Cummins’ third-period class.
On March 13, Cummins and Thomas were said to have fled the state together after he allegedly abducted her. Shortly after Thomas was reported missing, an AMBER Alert was issued by the TBI to help find her.
Up until March 31, the agency said it’d received more than 1,200 tips from across the country to help locate the pair.
In January, Cummins was accused of kissing Thomas inside of a classroom where he once taught. He was suspended from the school because of the incident.
According to a document obtained by WKRN News 2, a student saw and reported what looked to be a “peck” on the lips between the two. After it was reported, however, officials from the school didn’t notify Thomas’ parents.
The document said that Thomas’ father Anthony, a custodian at the school, was unable to get any concrete response from the school when he found out and inquired about the alleged incident.
To take a look at Anthony Thomas’ full letter, read the document below:
Since the abduction of Thomas, Cummins’ wife, Jill, had urged him to return the teenager safely to her home at a press conference.
Before going on the run with Thomas, Cummins had no adult criminal record in Tennessee, WHNT-TV reported.
So the alleged abduction and fleeing authorities came as a huge surprise to Cummins’ family and those in his rural Tennessee neighborhood.
In an interview with The Tennessean, Cummins’ next-door neighbor Freda Scott said the alleged abduction came as a total surprise. Scott said that Cummins is a very nice, religious man who would never hesitate to say, “Hello.”
“Nobody knows why he did it,” she said to the newspaper. “It just doesn’t make sense, he was the nicest man. He’d walk down the street here in the neighborhood and say hello and invite people to his church. He and his wife would take that girl to church. His poor wife is devastated.”
Cummins held leadership roles within his church, serving as a youth pastor and an adult chaperone for youth activities. He applied to be a teacher at the school in 2011, explaining on his application just how much he had dreamed of being able to be an educator.
3. Footage of Cummins & Thomas At an Oklahoma Wal-Mart 2 Days After Going On the Run Was Released by Authorities
Cummins and Thomas were spotted at an Oklahoma City Wal-Mart on March 15 together, and a new series of photos from video surveillance at the store were unveiled by authorities as they continued their search March 31. The grainy footage of Cummins and Thomas was the first confirmed sighting since they went on the run.
The surveillance footage showed Thomas had dyed her hair red and Cummins changed his hair from its original charcoal-gray tone to a darker color. Once the footage was obtained and investigated by authorities, it proved to be unclear as to what type of vehicle they drove to the store in.
“Investigators obtained surveillance images from a Walmart on East I-240 Service Road in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma from the afternoon of March 15th, showing Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas shopping at the store,” the TBI wrote in an update to its AMBER Alert in the Thomas case. “Cummins used cash to purchase various food items, but did not purchase anything else of significance.”
After that sighting, however, the trail seemed to have run cold and no additional sightings were confirmed by authorities.
4. Cops Said Cummins Was ‘Armed & Dangerous’Authorities said in the AMBER Alert that they believed Cummins was “armed with two handguns and driving a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT” immediately after the abduction was reported.
They issued a warrant for Cummins’ arrest on the grounds of Sexual Contact with a Minor and Aggravated Kidnapping. Shortly after charging Cummins with the crimes, the TBI added him to the state’s ‘Top 10 Most Wanted’ list and issued a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to his capture.
A surveillance video March 13 showed Cummins filling up his car at a gas station just moments before meeting Thomas at a diner in Columbia, Tennessee. After meeting there, the two drove south to Alabama, about 70-miles away. Authorities believed the two were headed further south toward Florida’s panhandle.
5. Cummins & Thomas Both Posted About ‘Love’ On Instagram Prior to FleeingCummins and Thomas previously had extensive posts about love on Instagram, though Thomas’ posts were mixed with thoughts on depression and death.
Here’s a screenshot of the top of Thomas’ Instagram page:Thomas often posted on Instagram about being “broken, ugly and wanting to die.” In addition, she also posted things expressing how she was looking forward to going to school, such as the post below.
Thomas referred to herself as Cummins’ “wife” on her Instagram account, posting a graphic from the movie Beauty and the Beast to her account around the time she disappeared. It said that “every beauty needs her beast to protect her from everything but him.”
According to reports, Cummins had searched the term “teen marriage” before kidnapping Thomas. Similar to Thomas, Cummins also posted cryptic messages to his Instagram account about being in love.
Cummins published the below post to his profile on the day when Thomas was reported missing. The caption of the image said that “this is going to be an amazing day! Let’s do this!”