Tennessee Teacher Tad Cummins Arrested in California, Teen Elizabeth Thomas Safe

(NBCNews) - The 50-year-old Tennessee man accused of kidnapping his 15-year-old former student was arrested in Northern California — and the teenage girl was recovered safely after she was missing for more than a month, authorities said Thursday.

Tad Cummins, a former high school teacher in rural Tennessee, was nabbed in California after disappearing with Elizabeth Thomas on March 13, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a post on Twitter. The TBI said Thomas was recovered safely.

The two were discovered Thursday morning "at a commune" in Cecilville, California, the TBI later said in a statement. Siskiyou County authorities first discovered the Nissan Rogue used by Cummins early Thursday, and then later located the pair, according to the statement.

Cummins surrendered without incident, the TBI said, and Thomas was rescued by authorities. Authorities were still working to reunite Thomas with her family, the TBI said in the statement.

The TBI said Cummins' vehicle was located after receiving a tip Wednesday night.

"Our Intelligence Analysts and Agents have worked tirelessly since issuing this AMBER Alert to process more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states," TBI Director Mark Gwyn said in the statement. "What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end."

Cummins was in custody of the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department in California, while awaiting extradition to Tennessee on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.

The arrest in California comes weeks after authorities said the two had been spotted on surveillance camera at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma City on March 30.

Authorities were on a nationwide manhunt for the two, after Tennessee authorities issued an AMBER Alert said they were deeply concerned "about his intentions for her." Cummins had been added to the state's "Top 10 Most Wanted" list.

Cummins had been suspended from teaching at the Culleoka Unit School, where Thomas attends, in February after disobeying an order barring Thomas from his classroom following an incident the month before where a student reported seeing the two kissing.

The TBI told NBC News last month that Cummins had been searching for information on "teen marriage" online on March 5 — more than a week before Thomas went missing.

The girl's father, Anthony Thomas, had told NBC News that he believed Cummins was grooming the children in his class — telling them lies including that he had previously worked for the FBI and CIA.

"He had lied to all these kids," he said. "I told them it couldn't possibly be true."

He added that his daughter told him Cummins claimed to have millions of dollars and multiple pieces of property.

Cummins' wife, Jill, had pleaded with her husband to turn himself in.

"You know you can't hide forever," Jill Cummins said in an interview with NBC News. "For your sake and for Beth's sake, please go to the police or please just drop Beth off somewhere safe."

She later announced that she had filed for divorce on March 31.

"The filing of the divorce complaint is the first step to removing Jill from this situation," Michael Cox, her attorney, said at the time. "Jill will attempt to move forward with her life. This is a difficult time for her and her family."

 

James Thomas, Elizabeth's brother, said that on the day his sister disappeared she told another sibling that if she was not home by 6 p.m. to call the police.


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