Adam Carlson, Harriet Sokmensuer, and Greg Hanlon
April 20, 2017 03:08 PM

Tennessee investigators on Thursday announced an end to a weeks-long hunt for Elizabeth Thomas and Tad Cummins, a missing 15 year-old girl and the former teacher who had allegedly abducted her.

The pair vanished from Tennessee in March before being discovered in Northern California this week, state authorities said.

In the weeks between their disappearance and discovery, many details surfaced about who Cummins was — and what he allegedly may have been doing to Thomas.

Here are five things to know about the case.

1. Teen Warned Family to Call Police If She Didn’t Come Home

On the morning that Elizabeth Thomas was allegedly abducted by the 50-year-old Cummins, she told her family she was spending the day with a female friend, but to call police if she wasn’t home by a certain time that night, her family’s lawyer told PEOPLE.

“She confided in one of her siblings that if she was not back by 6 p.m. that day and she was to disappear, to call the police,” attorney Jason Whatley said.

Thomas, a high school freshman at at Culleoka Unit School in Maury County, Tennessee, where Cummins taught health sciences, was picked up from her home the morning of March 13 by a female friend.

By 12:41 that afternoon, she was declared missing by the Maury County Sheriff’s Department.

The last reported sighting of her was at 7:45 a.m., when someone spotted her at a local Shoney’s restaurant.

Elizabeth Thomas
Courtesy Thomas Family

2. Kidnapping Suspect Allegedly ‘Groomed’ Teen

Authorities allege that Cummins was caught kissing Thomas on school property in January, and prosecutors claimed the two exchanged “romantic” messages via his school email.

Cummins was later fired from his job at Culleoka after being named as a suspect in the Thomas’ disappearance.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

“This is a 15-year-old girl — and if they are together, she has been groomed by a 50-year-old authority figure,” Whatley, the Thomas family’s attorney, said in March.

A court petition obtained by PEOPLE in April alleged that Cummins was a “masterfully manipulating predator” who pressured Thomas to go out with him by threatening her with “repercussions at school.”

3. The Pair Were Gone for Weeks — and Spotted Across the Country

Before Cummins and Thomas were found in California this week, they were seen together in Oklahoma City, two days after disappearing, according to investigators.

Numerous false sightings circulated of the pair as well, and authorities had said they believed Cummins may have been keeping Thomas “off the grid.”

Authorities even said in late March that they could be in Mexico.

From left: Elizabeth Thomas and Tad Cummins.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

4. Family Says Teen Girl Was Bullied Before Meeting Teacher

Thomas’ sister Sarah has told PEOPLE that she was interested in a career in the medical field and “idolized” Cummins because he had worked for a decade in the health care industry.

“He took that interest to kind of manipulate, to gain control over her, to gain her favor,” Sarah said. (Cummins also told Elizabeth he had worked for the CIA and FBI, her family said.)

Elizabeth was at a vulnerable point coming into the 2016-2017 school year because she had been bullied the year before, according to Sarah.

Last year was Elizabeth’s first in the public school system, after being home-schooled until eighth grade, her family said.

Elizabeth’s father, Anthony, told PEOPLE that Cummins helped her with homework and “[gave] her money, bought a microwave so she would heat food up in his room [and] try and get her out of trouble.”

Cummins, meanwhile, had been teaching at Culleoka since 2011, according to a copy of his employment application that was obtained by PEOPLE.

“I have often thought that I would love to be a teacher, and just might excel at it, but it never seemed to be my destiny,” he wrote in his application, adding that teaching was his ideal “second career.”

5. Pair Is Found at Last

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced the break in the case on Twitter on Thursday, saying Elizabeth “has been safely recovered” in Northern California, while Cummins was taken into custody.

An arrest warrant had been issued for him on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor (the latter charge stemming from the alleged kiss in January), according to the TBI.

TBI spokesperson Josh Devine tells PEOPLE, “Someone in California saw them and called authorities. That’s the power of the public in a situation like this, in an AMBER Alert.”

Devine says the pair was found in a cabin. The TBI announced it would reveal more details at a 4 p.m. ET press conference.

Elizabeth’s older sister, Kat Bozeman, told PEOPLE of the news, “We’re absolutely thrilled and blessed to have her safe and on her way home.

“It’s amazing. This is the best day we could have imagined.”

You May Like