Harriet Sokmensuer
March 29, 2017 05:13 PM

Elizabeth Thomas and her alleged abductor Tad Cummins may have fled the country to Mexico, Tennessee officials announced a press conference on Tuesday.

“[He] planned this in such a way that he had a 24-hour head start, easily enough time for him to make it to Mexico,” Maury County District Attorney Brent Cooper said.

Cummins, 50, and 15-year-old Thomas have been missing since March 13. The high school freshman is believed to be with her former health sciences teacher after Cummins alleged “groomed” Thomas for months and the two allegedly exchanged emails officials described as “romantic” in nature.

A warrant has been issued for Cummins’ arrest on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. The latter stems from reports that the pair were caught kissing in Cummins’ classroom on Jan. 23.

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“Some have characterized this relationship as a romance,” Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Mark Gwyn said at the press conference. “But this morning I want to caution the public to avoid anything that might look or sound like victim blaming.

“This is not a fairy tale,” he continued. “This is a case of kidnapping.”

Courtesy Thomas Family

Cummins has described himself as a religious man who has worked with children in the past, according to his resume, which was obtained by PEOPLE.

Cooper said Cummins could be using his background in Mexico or South America. “It’s possible that he’s playing the role of a missionary in that area, ” Cooper told ABC News.

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On Wednesday, the TBI released a copy of their AMBER Alet poster in Spanish. Officials say they have received more than 1,000 tips and unconfirmed sightings of the pair in 49 states.

Authorities believe Cummins is likely keeping Elizabeth “off the grid” and they’ve urged the public to search their properties, local campgrounds, rural areas and parking garages.

Elizabeth was last placed in Alabama and was last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings. She is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 120 lbs., with blonde hair and hazel eyes.

Cummins was seen driving a Silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee license plate 976ZPT, according to the TBI. He is 6 feet tall and weighs 200 lbs., with brown hair and eyes.

Anyone with information on Cummins or Elizabeth should call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.

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