Ex-Teacher Accused of Kidnapping Student Researched Teen Marriage a Week Before Disappearance
The 50-year-old ex-health sciences teacher researched teen marriage and whether his Nissan Rogue came with features that could be tracked by police
New information released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reveals Tad Cummins, the former high school teacher who allegedly kidnapped teen Mary Catherine Elizabeth Thomas last week, researched teen marriage a week before the two disappeared.
On Tuesday, the bureau said in a news release that, on March 10, Cummins also researched whether his Nissan Rogue had certain features that could be tracked by law enforcement.
The TBI said Cummins did this just three days before he and 15-year-old Thomas, who goes by Elizabeth, went missing on March 13. Thomas vanished from Maury County, Tennessee, after asking a friend to drop her off at a local Shoney’s that morning.
It was also determined by investigators that Cummins had researched the topic of teen marriage on March 5.
On Monday, the TBI released surveillance video captured on March 7, depicting Cummins shopping for hair dye at a Walmart in Columbia, Tennessee. The bureau confirmed the hair dye was not connected to any plan to change his or Thomas’ appearance.
The bureau stated it has received more than 650 leads, but that the lack of confirmed sightings leads the TBI to believe that Cummins could have the teenager hidden from view or far away from Tennessee, according to the release.
Thomas’ father, Anthony, spoke to PEOPLE and says he believes Cummins took his daughter to Alabama.
“What worries me is because Alabama has more lenient rules on age of marriage and that makes me a little bit upset,” he says. “She is a child — that’s what people need to understand. He is 50 years old and she is only 15. He is an adult. She cannot make decisions and be responsible for decisions like this.”
He adds: “If I had known that, I would have asked her about that.”
Before she disappeared, Elizabeth changed one of her social media profiles bios to say “wife” with a ring emoji.
“I don’t keep up. I’ve got a relative who keeps me up with social media, and I’ve seen that and it is very, very troubling,” Anthony says. “She still has to get my consent to go anywhere. If she wants to go eat at Ruby Tuesdays, she has to have my permission to do so. She certainly does not have my permission to be taken out of town or out of state [or get married]!”
“She certainly did not have my permission to get into a car,” he continues.
Jason Whatley, the family’s attorney, previously told PEOPLE his clients are both “shocked and saddened” by even a reference to the idea that their daughter wants to marry Cummins.
“It is simply demonstrative of the power he has over,” Whatley said. “If in fact they are together — and everything we believe is happening — then that change of status is perfectly consistent with a man who would groom a young, impressionable girl into such a thing.”
Investigators on Tuesday released a photo of Elizabeth in class in January with Cummins. The photo was taken “days before” Cummins allegedly had sexual contact with the teen on school property, according to the TBI.
Elizabeth 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.
• Reporting by HARRIET SOKMENSUER