***UPDATE: Amber Alert suspect Tad Cummins is under arrest and Elizabeth Thomas has been safely recovered in Northern California. The news broke just after the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department said they found Cummins’ vehicle. We are awaiting a press conference for more details***
Tad Cummins handed over the title of his SUV, put up some other personal effects and walked out of the loan office with $4,500 in cash.
The 50-year-old high school health teacher was on the verge of losing his job and his freedom after he’d been spotted kissing a 15-year-old student, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
The ensuing criminal investigation was swirling, and authorities believe Cummins, armed with two handguns, had little left to lose.
The $4,500, investigators believe, has helped the pair elude authorities during a week-long manhunt that has consumed the state of Tennessee and made national headlines. TBI investigators believe Cummins may have planned to abduct Elizabeth Thomas well before he picked her up at a Shoney’s restaurant in Columbia, Tennessee.
Elizabeth had a “troubled life,” authorities said. Her mother is facing felony child abuse charges, District Attorney Brent Cooper told Reuters. Cummins had been the teen’s health teacher.
“Investigative efforts have revealed a troubling pattern of behavior by Tad Cummins, suggesting the 50-year-old may have been abusing his role as a teacher to groom this vulnerable young girl for some time in an effort to lure and potentially sexually exploit her,” the TBI said in a statewide Amber Alert.
“Having now been on the run for more than five days, Cummins may have taken her, frankly, anywhere,” the agency said.
On March 13, video surveillance at a Columbia gas station showed Cummins filling up his silver Nissan Rogue. A short time later, investigators believe, he drove to the Shoney’s restaurant, where Elizabeth had been dropped off by a friend and was waiting. That afternoon, investigators say they determined Thomas was 80 miles away, in Decatur, Ala.
Then, nothing. Investigators say they have received 250 tips from 24 states, but not enough information to tighten the dragnet despite a multistate manhunt and Cummins’s addition to Tennessee’s most wanted list.
In a news release, the TBI said Cummins may be keeping Elizabeth out of sight of authorities, possibly sleeping in his car or in a rural community.
Cummins is a white man with brown hair and eyes, who stands 6-feet tall and weighs about 200 pounds. Authorities believe he’s armed and driving a silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT. The man and the teen may have dyed their hair or otherwise changed their appearance.
Cummins has been charged with sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping.
The crimes he’s accused of contrast greatly with the portrait he’d painted on social media of a God-fearing husband and grandfather.
His twitter biography describes him as a “Jesus freak/child of The King” and a “warrior-poet” who plays drums. He retweeted quotes about his Christian faith and snapped photos of students and teachers donating blood.
Last week, Cummins’s wife Jill went on TV and pleaded for her husband to turn himself in.
“Tad, this is not you. This is not who you are. We can help you get through this. I had no idea my husband was involved in any of this,” she said, according to the Tennessean.
“Your family wants their Poppy back. Please do the right thing and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth back home.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Cleve R. Wootson Jr.