Missing teen, ex-teacher found after 5-week search

Authorities arrested Tad Cummins, 50, in Northern California on Thursday -- five weeks after he disappeared from Tennessee with 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas. Image courtesy of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

April 20 (UPI) — A former Tennessee high school teacher who disappeared with a student last month was found with the girl 2,000 miles away on Thursday, in Northern California.

Law enforcement officers had been searching for Tad Cummins since March 13, when he went missing with 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas. Local, state and federal authorities were involved in the search.

Cummins, 50, was arrested Thursday after authorities in Siskiyou County spotted his vehicle at a commune in Cecilville, a rural town located 50 miles south of the California-Oregon border. The man and the girl were located a short time later. Investigators said Elizabeth was safe and in good condition.

Cummins and Elizabeth had last been seen in Columbia, Tenn., on March 13. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also joined the search. A number of Amber Alerts were issued for the girl.

“Our intelligence analysts and agents have worked tirelessly since issuing this Amber Alert to process more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said in a statement Thursday. “What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end.”

“The news of Elizabeth Thomas’ safe return is wonderful news for our community, and now, we can begin healing as a community,” Maury County Public Schools said in a statement. “Thanks go to all who have kept the message of finding Elizabeth Thomas and working on her safe return as top-of-mind throughout the nation.”

Investigators are still trying to piece together a timeline of events in the case. It wasn’t immediately known whether the girl was forced to flee against her will or if she was somehow talked into going along.

Cummins was jailed in Northern California and is awaiting extradition to Tennessee to face felony kidnapping and other charges.

“This just feels like our prayers have been answered, and the lost sheep is home,” state Rep. Sheila Butt said.


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