Missing Tennessee Student Found: How a Tip Led to Her Discovery in Remote California Cabin
Tad Cummins, Thomas's 50-year-old teacher, faces multiple charges
Tennessee officials announced at a press conference that a single tip enabled them to find a missing Tennessee teen and the teacher who allegedly abducted her.
At about 11 p.m. CT Wednesday, an unidentified caller called a tip line to say Tad Cummins, 50, and his 15-year-old female student, Elizabeth Thomas, had “taken up residence in a cabin in Cecilville, California,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh Devine said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
The cabin was in “a very remote, isolated area with no to limited cell phone service,” Devine says. Officials believe they had been in the cabin 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 at around dawn, authorities said.
“Elizabeth will soon be on her way home,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said, adding, “Cummins is facing a set of charges that should be keeping him behind bars for many years.”
Prior to his capture, a warrant had been issued for Cummins’ arrest on charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor. The latter charge stems from an alleged January incident in which Cummins was allegedly caught kissing Thomas on school grounds.
Jack Smith, Acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said that Cummins also faces federal charges.
Brent Cooper, Maury County District Attorney, said Thomas is “apparently healthy and unharmed. Our main concern is how she is emotionally and mentally.”
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Officials said Thomas will soon head home to Tennessee on a TBI aircraft.
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Investigators had previously said the pair were “off the grid.”
Thomas’ older sister, Kat Bozeman, tells PEOPLE, “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.”
Authorities allege Cummins “groomed” Thomas 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 allegedly exchanged emails officials described as “romantic” in nature.
Thomas’ father, Anthony Thomas, told PEOPLE that Cummins “built up a system where she was dependent on him.”
He says Cummins helped Elizabeth 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.”
During the period they were missing, Cummins’ wife, Jill Cummins, filed for divorce after 31 years of marriage.