On January 23, a good friend of abducted Tennessee teen Elizabeth Thomas saw the 15-year-old exchange a kiss with her 50-year-old teacher, Tad Cummins. The next day, the friend confronted Elizabeth to ask her what had been going on. According to Elizabeth, she saw health sciences teacher Cummins as a “father figure,” while she claimed that the 50-year-old saw her as “as a close and best friend.” Despite the fact that shocking kiss she’d witness between the unlikely pair was little more than a peck, reports ABC News, abducted teen Elizabeth Thomas’ friend reported it to school authorities.
“It wasn’t like a make-out kiss, just a peck on the lips.”
A week later, on January 30, the Culleoka Unit School created an incident report related to the alleged secret kiss, a kiss that both Elizabeth and Tad Cummins denied (to school authorities) had ever taken place. Regardless of the lack of evidence, the school began making arrangements to remove the teen girl from Cummins’ class. Despite the school’s investigation into the disturbing allegations of a kiss between the minor student and her 50-year-old teacher, Elizabeth’s father claims that he had not yet been made aware of the situation.
In fact, Elizabeth’s father Jason Whatley said (in a letter from his lawyer) that he was not informed that Cummins may have exchanged a kiss with his now presumed abducted daughter until January 31. And when he was made aware, it wasn’t by the school – according to Whatley, he found out when he was questioned by police about the alleged kissing incident. He claims that after the police interview, he called the school to complain that he’d been “left in the dark.” Just three days later, Elizabeth Thomas’ father was notified via mail that his daughter had been caught in her teachers’ classroom again, despite the school’s warning that she was to stay away from the 50-year-old.
On February 6, Tad Cummins was suspended from his position without pay. However, since her abduction, investigations into her phone records indicate that the pair remained in contact.
On March 13, the family of Elizabeth Thomas found them thrust into their worst conceivable nightmare. Early that morning, Elizabeth allegedly woke her older sister Sarah to tell her that she was going out and to “call the police” if she hadn’t returned home by 6:00 p.m. Elizabeth never returned and is believed by her family and local law enforcement to have been abducted by her former teacher, Tad Cummins. She was last seen before 8:00 a.m. at a Shoney’s restaurant in Columbia, Tennessee, where she had been dropped off by a friend.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, at approximately the same time Elizabeth was being dropped off, Cummins was at a nearby gas station filling up his vehicle (a silver Nissan Rogue). According to law enforcement, it is believed that Elizabeth Thomas was abducted by her teacher shortly thereafter, and the pair were later spotted in Decatur, Alabama.
Neither has been seen since, despite an exhaustive police and TBI investigation.
After Elizabeth was allegedly abducted, the Culleoka Unit School officially fired Cummins. Sometime between March 14 and 21, Elizabeth’s Instagram account was changed to indicate that she is now a “wife.” As Alabama.com reports, Tad Cummins allegedly used his personal computer to search the term “teen marriage” before Elizabeth was abducted. At this point, it is unknown who made the change to Thomas’ Instagram profile.
On March 15, an Amber Alert was issued for the allegedly abducted teen, and on March 17, Tad Cummins was added to Tennessee’s 10 Most Wanted list. On that same day, his distraught wife pleaded publicly for him to bring abducted teen Elizabeth Thomas home safely.
“I had no idea my husband was involved with anything that has led to all this. My heart breaks for the family of Beth Thomas. Tad, this is not you. This is not who you are. We can help you get through this… Your family wants their Poppy back. Please do the right thing and turn yourself into the police and bring Beth home.”
On March 21, the TBI released a photo of abducted Elizabeth Thomas and her alleged kidnapper together. The pic was reportedly taken at the school roughly a week before the pair were spotted allegedly sneaking a kiss in Cummins’ classroom.
Now, it’s been nine days since Elizabeth Thomas was abducted, allegedly by a teacher who has been described as “armed.” Investigators are pulling out all the stops in an effort to bring the teen home safely and are now reaching out to property owners in rural areas near where she disappeared for help. As WHNT 19 reports, those desperately searching for Elizabeth are hoping that the reason neither she nor her alleged kidnapper has been seen for over a week is because they are hiding out.
Investigators claim that they have received a dishearteningly low number of reports of sightings in the case, but are hopeful that this could be because Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas are deliberately staying out of sight – not because the worst has happened. As such, they are asking local residents that if “you live on rural property or own land you don’t visit every day, you check it out for anything suspicious.”
“Grant is very rural. We’ve got a lot of rural area around us.”
Police and TBI officers are hoping that the eyes and ears of private property owners could help them crack this disturbing and daunting teen abduction case.
“Now that we have an AMBER Alert out where we have a missing child, they need to be a little bit more vigilant in checking that property to make sure that there’s nothing out-of-place.”
Investigators in the case are now looking into the credible theory that Cummins actively worked at “grooming” the abducted teen before she was allegedly kidnapped. Police say that in addition to searching online for “teen marriage,” Cummins also appears to have inquired into how difficult his vehicle would be for police to track, and law enforcement officials believe it’s possible that the pair are still traveling in his Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT.
Anyone with any information about the alleged abduction of Tennessee teen Elizabeth Thomas is asked to call 1-800-TBI-FIND; if you see Elizabeth Thomas, Cummins or the vehicle in question, you are advised to call 911 immediately.
[Featured Image by Tennessee Bureau of Investigations/Twitter]