The man who tipped off authorities about missing Tennessee teen Elizabeth Thomas and the former teacher who allegedly abducted her spoke out on Friday about his interactions with them and why he called police.
Griffin Barry said he was suspicious of the girl’s shy behavior and the older man’s attempts to “keep her away,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America.
Barry said he initially encountered Thomas, 15, and 50-year-old Tad Cummins at a gas station in far Northern California. He said the pair gave their names as “John” and “Joanna” and explained that they needed money for gas, food and a place to stay.
Barry told NBC’s Today that they said they were from Colorado and that Cummins claimed Thomas was 24 and he was in his 30s.
Barry paid for their gas, gave them $40 and set them up with accommodations in a remote cabin in Cecilville, California, he told GMA.
Barry said he didn’t talk much to them, but he nonetheless became suspicious because he noticed Cummins tried to “keep her [Thomas] away.”
“The girl wasn’t really looking at me or anything and he was always dominating the conversation. That kind of clues people in,” he told GMA.
He said he later saw photos of the pair from news reports — as both Cummins and Thomas had gone missing in Tennessee in mid-March and were still the subject of an ongoing AMBER Alert — and he realized Cummins was “the guy.”
“I had a photo of him that was the AMBER Alert. I was like, that’s definitely the guy, and then we saw the car as well and it matched up. Then we called the police right after that,” Barry said.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh Devine said at a Thursday afternoon press conference that about 11 p.m. CT Wednesday, an unidentified caller called a tip line to say the pair had “taken up residence” in the cabin.
Investigators believe they had been there for about a week and a half.
After confirming the VIN number of the Nissan Rogue in which Cummins and Thomas had allegedly been traveling, authorities took Cummins into custody around dawn, authorities said.
Cummins had been Thomas’ health science teacher at Culleoka Unit School in Maury County, Tennessee, before both disappeared.
Authorities allege he “groomed” her for months. Cummins was suspended from his job after he was allegedly caught kissing Thomas on school grounds, and he was fired after he and Thomas went missing. The two had also allegedly exchanged emails officials described as “romantic” in nature.
Prior to his capture, Tennessee authorities issued a warrant for Cummins’ arrest on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor — the latter charge stemming from the alleged January kiss.
He also faces charges in California for alleged possession of stolen property and kidnapping, according to ABC News.
Jack Smith, the acting United States attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said Thursday that Cummins additionally faces federal charges.
During the pair’s disappearance, Cummins’ wife, Jill Cummins, filed for divorce after 31 years of marriage.
Brent Cooper, the Maury County district attorney, told reporters Thursday that Thomas is “apparently healthy and unharmed. Our main concern is how she is emotionally and mentally.”
Thomas’ older sister, Kat Bozeman, told PEOPLE after her discovery, “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.”