Elizabeth Thomas, the 15-year-old high school student reported missing in March, has been rescued. Tad Cummins, her teacher, has been arrested.
According to ABC News, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation received a tip about Thomas and Cummins at around 11 p.m. on Wednesday. The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department had received the same tip. Siskiyou County is located in northern California near the Oregon border.
Investigators who responded to the tip found Cummins’ Nissan Rogue and confirmed its VIN number. They kept the car under surveillance for several hours. Early Thursday morning, Siskiyou County authorities found Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas alive at a cabin in the rural community of Cecilville. Cummins reportedly surrendered without incident and was taken into custody. Thomas was safely recovered.
“Our intelligence analysts and agents have worked tirelessly since issuing this AMBER Alert to process more than 1,500 leads from all 50 states,” TBI director Mark Gwyn said following the rescue of Elizabeth Thomas.
“What happened in California this morning, however, proves it only takes one person to lead to a successful end.”
“We are extremely thankful the hard work of all partners in this search has paid off,” he added.
“We’re also grateful for the public’s support and vigilance throughout this search effort. It only takes one tip.”
“This is yet another example of the value of the public helping us to rescue a kidnapping victim,” Gwyn said.
Authorities are still in the process of reuniting Elizabeth Thomas with her family. Authorities said that a TBI aircraft will bring the teenager home to Tennessee. The biggest concerns for Thomas right now are her emotional and mental state.
Meanwhile, it could take weeks before Cummins is brought back to Tennessee. The former teacher remains in custody with Siskiyou County authorities. He is being held without bond. Lawrence County Attorney General Brent Cooper told the press that Cummins will face charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor.
U.S. attorney Jack Smith said that a federal charge of transportation of a minor across state lines with the intent to have criminal sexual intercourse has been filed by the U.S. State Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee. The 50-year-old suspect, who was added to the 10 most wanted list in Tennessee, will be arraigned on Friday.
Thomas had been missing since March 13. Cummins, a father and grandfather, was fired from his job at Culleoka Unit School a day after he and Thomas disappeared. Elizabeth Thomas was a student in Cummins’ forensics class.
Police said Tad Cummins had researched teen marriage and the age of consent prior to his alleged kidnapping of Thomas. He also reportedly tried to find out if certain features of his car could be tracked by law enforcement.
The Tennessean reports that Kat Bozeman, Elizabeth’s sister, said that the family is “ecstatic” to learn that she has been found alive.
“We’re so happy that California police worked quickly and were able to find them and get her safe.”
“I believe the FBI are going to make sure she’s healthy before she comes home,” she added.
“We’ll make sure she’ll get what therapy she needs and that she’s safe, that she knows she’s safe.”
Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia, Tennessee told the outlet that the abduction has brought the community together and that the news of Elizabeth Thomas’ rescue has been an answered prayer. She also said that she is proud of the community and is confident that local officials will learn from the experience.
“I have known Tad Cummins over the years, and I think I could honestly tell you that I’m not surprised that she’s safe,” she added.
“I will let the courts deal with the ramifications of what happened here.”
[Featured Image by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation]