Missing Tennessee teen found safe in California; teacher arrested


After five weeks on the run, a Tennessee teacher who kidnapped and fled with his 15-year-old student has been arrested in California, authorities said Thursday. He said the girl was at times "laughing, crying and acting stoic" after police found her at the remote cabin. The remote, mountainous area has limited cellphone service and the terrain is hard to traverse.

Cummins had been suspended from the Culleoka Unit School in February after disobeying an order barring Thomas from his classroom following an incident the month before where a student reported seeing the two kissing. Cummins was suspended from his job after he was allegedly caught kissing Elizabeth on school grounds, and he was sacked after he and Elizabeth went missing.

Authorities say they were found at a commune in Cecilville, California, on Thursday. Investigators were then able to use the car's VIN number to confirm that it belonged to Cummins and kept the vehicle under surveillance for several hours, Devine said. The teacher, however, acknowledged that the girl was "a really good friend and she does leave her other classes to come see him when she needs someone to calm her down", according to a school report dated January 30.

Bozeman also told News 2 the family is absolutely elated she was found, and federal agents said it would be about a day before they can see the 15-year-old again.

The affidavit starts with a School Resource Officer that contacted a sheriff's investigator late January reporting that students had seen Cummins and Thomas kiss.

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He also faces charges in California for alleged possession of stolen property and kidnapping, according to ABC News.

The report recommended that the girl be taken out of Cummins' class and that he be reprimanded to uphold his professional responsibility. He said Cummins borrowed money from him and left but eventually came back.

Ambers Alerts were issued in Tennessee and Alabama on Tuesday, March 14 for Mary Catherine "Elizabeth" Thomas and Tad Cummins. He was added to the state's most wanted list. Whatley speculated that Cummins had planned an escape to the Northwest, referencing the citing of the two at a Walmart in Oklahoma City off Interstate 44, which leads to California. The images showed Cummins had altered his hair to appear darker and the girl's hair may have changed to red. After they went missing, Cummins's wife of 31 years, Jill, filed for divorce.

The day that Cummins and Thomas went missing, the affidavit says Cummins lied to his wife and borrowed her 2015 Nisan Rogue auto.

"When something like this happens, a community gets together and feels like this is one of our children", Butt said.